Bookless Library?

empty-shelvesA library without books? The headmaster of a New England prep school is convinced this is a good idea. An article on the front page of today’s Boston Globe is accompanied by a picture of Cushing Academy’s $500,000 digital library. “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, Cushing’s headmaster and chief evangelist of the bookless library.

Now, I realize I’m an old and old-fashioned 40-year-old. But the whole notion makes me cringe. What’s a church without a cross? What’s a baseball field without bases? What’s a Walmart without a greeter? What’s a library without books? I envision the bookless library to be about as effective as the paperless office. 

Most of the books I read these days comes from browsing the stacks at the local library. Yes, I judge books by their covers — something you can’t do digitally. And while I’d like to see libraries do more with technology (I won’t by a Kindle until I can download books for free from a library), I also love the physicality of a book. Perhaps I’m just a speed bump on the digital highway of the future. But I like how books feel and smell; I like the communion between author and reader that comes through a book; I like turning pages; I like bookmarks. Of course ancient scribes probably felt the same way about parchment.

On the upside, the new “library” will include a $50,000 coffee shop complete with a $12,000 cappucino maker. Besides the fact that combining raging hormones and lots of caffeine is a recipe for disaster, there’s another potential danger here: Kindle Reader — meet hot coffee. Oops.


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