Friday, October 9, 2009

I have a computer in my office; does that make it a cyber-office?

The headmaster of Cushing Academy issued a statement about the "transformation" of their library to electronic access (and, if you recall, awesome cappuccino). Actually, this came out a while ago, but this is not what one would consider a "breaking news" blog.

Anyway, you can read what he has to say here: Library Update from Headmaster Tracy

I would like to address a few points from this section in particular:
At the same time, we are adding to the staff of librarians and transforming the library into a dynamic, interactive learning center that includes monitors that provide students with real-time interactive data and news feeds from around the world, state-of-the-art computers with high-definition screens for research and reading, a larger and more centralized circulation desk, quiet cyber-carrels, open classroom space, a faculty lounge, and a cyber-café in a convivial setting for formal and informal student and teacher interaction.

1) I am "transforming [my] library into a dynamic, interactive learning center", and it has nothing to do with the format in which I make information available. Though my collection is already smaller than Cushing's; maybe those extra books get in the way of the dynamism.

2) I'm having a hard time envisioning "monitors that provide students with real-time interactive data and news feeds from around the world" as anything other than a bank of TVs tuned to CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and maybe the Food Channel.

3) "state-of-the-art computers with high-definition screens for research and reading" read: kick-ass monitors

4) "a larger and more centralized circulation desk": I am pro-centralization of the circulation desk. As for the size. . . as long as it's big enough to get the job done, larger does not necessarily mean better. I'm just sayin'.

5) What the hell is a cyber-carrel? Is it a study carrel where you can use your laptop? If so, how is that substantively different from any other kind of carrel? And isn't "cyber" as a prefix sort of dated? Shouldn't it be Carrel 2.0?

I am not a fanatic when it comes to books; I don't believe that individual books are sacred. I do think the knowledge and the wisdom found in books is sacred, and it makes no difference to me if that information is displayed on printed paper or a computer screen. But as someone who spends a fair amount of time trying to provide electronic access to books, I know better than most that all books are not available in electronic format--particularly older titles and books used for class study--and the ones available in e-text are not necessarily accessible for LD students (it's distinctly possible that Cushing is not concerned about the LD accessibility issue. But they should be).

E-text is where we are, almost inevitably, headed. And in terms of the possibilities for making information universally accessible, I think this is a good thing. But we are not there yet. I think of the print/e-text issue--as I do with so many things--as a Venn diagram, with print being one circle and e-text being the other. The area of overlap keeps getting bigger and bigger, but it is not one circle yet. And until it is, I fail to understand why increasing access to electronic text means it's necessary to decrease the number of print books.

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