USA Today’s recent story about Cushing Academy’s radically new library, “School chooses Kindle; are libraries for the history ‘books’?”, got me thinking about my own little library transformation. I’m happy I did it. Believing in a busy library and a broad range of services, I really had no choice.
With the help of several custodians, I began dismantling my school’s library in July 2008. In my opinion, the library looked like a warehouse, with lots of shelves, little room, less comfort, and no defined learning spaces. It was basically “a box of books,” I had told the committee that interviewed me a couple months earlier. And if a complete library program were to be developed, the box would have to be replaced.
I was fortunate to get the support of my school board when I proposed a complete room redesign. In short, several shelving units were removed, a few were replaced, reference and browsing sections were created in the middle of the room, and new furniture allowed for the creation of defined spaces (e.g. presentation area, large-group and small-group work areas, a space for reading). The most controversial addition to the room was a large, flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. “You weeded books for this?” more than one parent asked. I responded by saying that I had weeded because de-selection is part of good library management. But, in truth, the summer-time weeding project did open up space, which allowed for the floor space redesign and the beginning of a new library program.
With old and under-used (and never-used) volumes removed from the room, I do recognize that some books have perhaps been missed. Yet, I know that a lot more has been gained. In new learning spaces within the library, collaboration among students happens all day long, large-group instruction in information skills happens regularly, and at the same time reading and individual work takes place in adjacent spaces. Further, with the addition of eBooks to the reference collection, book sources are now retrievable seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Kindles? We have two.
The transformation of my small library doesn’t compare, of course, to that of Cushing Academy. It nonetheless is similar, I think, because it’s the result of believing that libraries are meant to connect people with information and that information takes many forms. While there are now fewer books in my library, I argue that there’s now more information. As students search print or electronic sources, discuss an event seen on a TV news program, use a library laptop to jointly build a multimedia project, or show one another an interesting magazine article, information is being rapidly gathered and widely shared. In other words, within the library there has developed a dynamic information exchange.
My commitment to this type of library leads me to this judgment about Cushing: On a ten scale ($12,000 coffee machine aside), where zero is total disagreement and ten is fully agree, I say the Academy’s bold library transformation is a seven. If you believe what students and staff said about the old place, then unless you’re trying to build a warehouse, the change must be viewed positively. Although I would argue for a more balanced blend of print and digital sources, I’d choose their busy library over the quiet warehouse any day. Are some old books being missed? Most likely. Is accessing and taking notes on information sometimes now more challenging? No doubt. But is the library merely a box? No way.