As just mentioned, at our meeting I am copying
the following e-mail that was sent to the Massachusetts School Library
Association’s listserv by the president of the Association of
Independent School Librarians, the American Association of School Libraries
(ALA chapter), and AASL’s Independent Schools Section (ISS):
From: MSLAmembers@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:MSLAmembers@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Liz Gray
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 9:02 AM
Please excuse cross-postings.
This letter (below) is being sent out today by me as president of
AISL, Cheryl Steele as president of ISS and Cassandra Barnett as president of
AASL to the Boston Globe, Library Journal, School Library Journal, American
Libraries, Independent School Magazine and five school library listservs.
It is, in our opinion, a considered and well-reasoned response to the
dismantling of the book collection at Cushing Academy's Fisher-Watkins Library.
Please feel free to share this letter with your principals, heads
of school, and anyone else who you think would benefit from reading it.
A huge thank you to everyone who helped with the writing of this
document. Let's hope that it has a positive impact!
Helen Temple Cooke Library
Dana Hall School
Wellesley, MA 02482
(781) 235-3010 x2586
September 21, 2009
A school without books is one in which fewer students will be
reading, and those of us who work with students every day in the libraries of
our nation’s schools have no doubt that access to the traditionally
printed word is an essential component of a successful education.
Urban planning theorist Jane Jacobs postulated that a healthy
community—one that is economically, socially, politically, and
environmentally vibrant—is designed and built based on the activities,
values, and concerns of the full range of its constituents. Diversity is
its hallmark. The same can be said of libraries: if they are monolithic,
adherents to a single format and inflexible, they outlive their usefulness. The
library that James Tracy envisions for Cushing Academy, the independent school
that he leads in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, will unfortunately be such a place
after the planned removal of its entire printed book collection, and his
actions are cause for great concern in our profession.
Dr. Tracy has argued the opposite; he believes that by discarding
20,000 books and choosing to deliver information to all his students in digital
format he is a trailblazer who has placed Cushing "in the forefront of a
pedagogical and technological shift" (“Letter to Cushing Academy
Alumni,” September 2009). However, his drastic act ignores certain
First of all, individual libraries are built intentionally, over
time, by trained professionals, and resources are selected with the needs of
the community that the library serves in mind. Such collections are vibrant
entities that continually expand and contract. Many resources are available
electronically but many are not and may never be. In addition, books go out of
print quickly, databases stop archiving material without notice, and e-book
collections are compiled by corporations that do not differentiate one school
from another. Once a library has purchased and has on its shelf a book that
perfectly meets the need of a group of users and has the potential for
continued relevance, what does an institution gain by discarding that book?
More to the point, what does it lose?
Secondly, a school library's most important goals are to support
the academic curriculum, to teach information literacy and to foster a love of
reading. None of these goals can be reached completely without the inclusion of
printed books. The last 500 years have proven that printed books are a uniquely
successful information-delivery system and, when they are organized in a
library and used in conjunction with information in a variety of other media,
offer multiple and repeated opportunities for learning. The removal of
printed books impoverishes an entire learning modality and dismisses outright the
value of books' physical attributes, in and of themselves and as conduits for
browsing and serendipity, and the contributions of that physicality to a
student’s reading experience.
Finally, consider the facts. Years of research on reading
have proven conclusively that students who read improve not only their
vocabularies but also their abilities to reason and discriminate. However, as
John Austin points out in his excellent review of Marc Bauerlein’s book The
Dumbest Generation Ever (Independent School, Winter 2009), in spite
of the exponential increase in the amount of information being digitized, young
people are reading less and less of it. In addition, reading online, both
because of the physical demands of the medium and because of multiple
opportunities for distraction, does not result in the same focused engagement
with the text that is possible with a printed book. Common sense suggests that
we should be doing everything in our power to encourage students to read and
engage with the printed page more, not less. We also do our students a
disservice if we do not teach them how to use all the sources of information
which they will encounter at the college and university level. Not
surprisingly, the use of printed books is still very much in vogue in higher
Every librarian we know is in the vanguard of technology use at
his or her school and a passionate reader and user of printed books.
To suggest that the two are mutually exclusive is regressive and reveals a lack
of knowledge both of the way digital information is created, sold and used, and
of the value of appropriate printed materials to many users. Responsible
collection development is not driven by a one-size-fits-all mentality or by
access to unlimited funds.
Between us, we have 73 years of experience as librarians in both
independent and public schools. Though many of the skills we teach are the same
as they were when we first began working in the field, our 2009 toolkit is
vastly different from the one with which we started out, and we are glad of it.
However, that is no reason for us to jettison our rich collections of printed
Association of Independent School Librarians
Independent School Section of the American Association of School
American Association of School Librarians