Friday, September 4, 2009

A World Without Books is No World At All

My friend Alyssa, who is in a library studies program and going to be one of the most wonderful children's librarians ever, just posted a link to an article about how one school is moving to get rid of all its books. The school is some snarky, private high school where apparently no one reads and or checks out books from the library. So the administrators have decided to discard all their books because they believe the future only holds room digital media. They headmaster is quoted as saying, "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books. This isn’t Fahrenheit 451. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’ To make things worse, two of the students they interviewed really didn't care about there being no books. Granted, I'm sure their views do not reflect the entire school population. 

 This absolutely breaks my heart! I'm an English major, an academic, and above all else a passionate, devoted lover of books! It's shocking for me to think that people don't care about books. Books are an important cultural staple and sources of learning. The headmaster's comment about books being outdated really bothered me. Scrolls weren't seen as worthless since the invention of the printing press. Why else would people have gone through such means to preserve them? Why did people get so excited when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found? They might be an outdated form of compiling information, nonetheless they should be preserved and cared for, not discarded.

The same goes for books. Not everything in books is digital and can be found and downloaded via the internet. Books are important not just for the stories and ideas, but the physical contents, the ink, the pages, the binding. Those can all tell us about culture. Different editions of books are important, they reflect changes made by the authors and give us new ways of interpreting a text. For me as a medievalist, early books are especially important for the artwork contained in the pages, the notes in the margins, words crossed out and replaced, the type of lettering. They are all markers of a culture and the writer(s). 

What would it be like to walk into a library and see no books, only computers? That'd be horrible. It wouldn't be a library! There would be no browsing in the stacks, stumbling across an interesting looking book, picking it up, and reading it. You can't browse via a computer and the net! You can type in genre and search and have referral tools. I think it's more complicated and irritating to find a book that way. I'm drawn to a book because of cover art, other times it's the title, and sometimes it's the actual look of the book. Plus, it's not going to hurt your eyes reading a book for a long period of time (unless you have poor lighting). Furthermore, in a digital text, you can't make notes or bend down or tag important pages. And books are durable as opposed to a kindle! Fire and water are about the only things truly detrimental to books, although in small amounts water won't destroy a book. 

Books were once considered a great commodity and a luxury. I think this school is also being really wasteful in discarding these books. I think the administrators are making a grave oversight and too radical move. It's a shame they don't see a value in books. I think it'll be a large gap in the students' education. 

I'm all for digitizing texts, especially since it makes archival work a lot easier. However, I don't believe books are a waste of space, outdated, and unnecessary. Moreover, books are far less expensive than electronic texts. I'm glad to see in the comments on the article, most of the people do not agree with the administrators' decision. What do you guys think?


  1. Your title sums it up EXACTLY. Just ARGH HOW? I love technology as much as the next person, love that I can read books off of my iPod touch but NO, it never, ever replaces real books for me. I will HORDE ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD IF I HAVE TO.

  2. that is crazy!! it makes me really sad for the kids at that school too. reading something on a computer is so not the same as cuddling up in a corner somewhere with a good book. and getting lost in a library in a maze of books? so much fun.

  3. Interesting.... I soo agree with picking up random books that have nice colourful covers. And it feels wonderful when I eventually fall in love with em. I dun see how i could ever StumbleUpon a random book online!

    Meg's spot on with regards to cuddling up in a corner, or during boring train rides in between places. And let's not forget the pain staring at e computer screen does to one's eyes.

    But a world with no book.....

    .... It wouldnt be as bad as a world without Google! (: