Non-Teaching, Research

The end of the library?

Creating the Future for Libraries, from The Shifted Librarian

As I was driving to class on Monday night I heard an interesting story on NPR about a boarding school which has decided to jettison all the physical books in its library. This story interested me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I found it compelling given my own interest in technology and its integration into education. Secondly, the story focused on an independent school, so it is always interesting to find out what other institutions in the NAIS world are up to. Finally, the story was especially compelling because the school in question was Cushing Academy, a boarding school in western Massachusetts where I had my official start in the teaching profession (read: fiscally compensated). During my time at Cushing I taught American History in their summer school program (which was relative eons ago–a measurement of time determined by when I still had hair).

While I see the merits of both side of the argument over “to digitize, or not to digitize” (my apologies, Shakespeare) and will likely elaborate on those further at some point in the not too distant future (note: that is a non-binding commitment), I did want to share an anecdote about Cushing’s library, which perhaps marks this decision to rid themselves of all their physical books as a particularly wise one.

In that summer I taught American History (in a condensed five-week program), we culminated the course with a brief (~5 pages, if I recall correctly) research paper. Students were free to select from a variety of topics or generate their own. One student opted to study Lincoln’s decision to emancipate the slaves. In all honesty I can’t recall any meaningful details about the paper except for one noteworthy element. However, that one feature stood out very starkly and at the time struck me as absurd, but after hearing the NPR story, I’ve gained new insight into what appears to be tainted research.

What is this very shocking detail, you ask? In the course of this paper about Lincoln the author referred to him as the “52nd President” not once, but twice!

Initially I assumed this assertion was based on the clairvoyance of the student. Alternatively, I also thought that perhaps some part of Ashburnham, MA, had access to a rift in the time-space continuum, which allowed the author to travel forward to period in which the United States has a 52nd president; moreover, this rift also seemed to exist in the Springfield, IL, which allowed an exhumed and revived Lincoln to resume the presidency (hey, even now he still has three years of eligibility). However, in retrospect it seems more likely that the explanation for this rather astounding assertion is more benign: bad books in Cushing’s library.

So, kudos to Cushing for ridding their library of obviously tainted printed materials that were written by powerful soothsayers, Nostradamus, or those who relied extensively on the “Bible Code” for their research. I imagine that the new all-digital databases that the library subscribes to and the Kindles that the students use will no longer lead them astray on their research.

Perhaps I’ll have less snarky observations to follow. In the meantime, back to defining “Intercultural Transfer”!


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