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Tuesday Midday Links Roundup: Boston Prep School Eliminates Its Library

Did you have a nice vacation?   I was almost completely untethered these past four days which was great while I was away. Unfortunately, the inbox doesn’t clear itself.

emoticon_smileHere is a piece of news that I missed.   According to a mobileread.com poster, Sony will replace all the LRX format books (books you bought at Sony Connect) with ePub when it makes the change.   This is a great move by Sony.

emoticon_surprisedLast week, a Boston Prep school decided to eliminate its library and replace it with a upscale coffee counter, plasma tvs, and 18 electronic readers at the cost of $500,000 for the remodel.   I’m a big ebook supporter but even I am uncertain how I feel about this.   It is true that long form narrative fiction and non fiction is the easiest content to read in digital format but to eliminate all the books and replace it with TVs and coffee shop?

When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. "This isn’t "Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

emoticon_surprisedAndy, a librarian, argues that its not as terrible as it seems.

But I think the real question that librarians and library professionals should be asking themselves is this: are we married to a medium or a message? If we fight to preserve books for the sake of books, are we adding argument to our own irrelevancy? Nowhere in the article is it stated that reading is being discouraged; in fact, there is a distinct impression by one of the commenters that using online or e-readers is a second class citizen of reading.

I’ll be talking more about this on Sunday.

emoticon_tongueGoogle is making concessions to European governments in regards to its plan to coopt the world’s out of print literature through the Google Book Settlement.   It will limit the books made available online and allow a European publisher a seat on a board that oversees the Book Rights Registry.

emoticon_tongueArs Technica has a piece about a kindler, gentler DRM system in which the consumer is allowed to share their purchases but only if they hand out a “playkey” which is linked to their media content.   It seems as if this Digital Personal Property system is still some kind of DRM but I like that companies are thinking about balancing the concerns of the content creators with that of the consumer.

Digital content lends itself easily to the creation of identical copies, so crafting a system in which digital content can be “stolen” is trickier than it might sound. The idea is to make it a “rivalrous good,” one that, after being taken, deprives someone else of something.

eyePublisher in the Netherlands is shrinking its book size to that of a small moleskin. It’s a new take on the penny dreadful or mass market.   Given the smallness of the print and the size of the book, it seems like this would only be good for serialized content or shorter works.   Either that or people’s word count will be drastically slashed.

Called thedwarsligger – which translates as “sleeper” – the book is a hard copy and was described by Sean French as “the size of a match box, almost”.

emoticon_tongueAll politics is local is the saying.   Newspapers are trying to capitalize on this by creating local editions.   Both the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal intend to produce San Francisco versions of its papers.   Huffington Post is also doing locality based web versions of its site.

eyeJames Boyle has a great article in the Financial Times about how copyright law is ruining cultural advancement and that if Congress won’t fix the system then perhaps the Google Book Settlement is the next best thing:

Once upon a time, three things held true. Copyrights were relatively short. You had to renew them (most people did not.) You didn’t get one unless you asked. Now none of those hold true. Copyright can last for more than 100 years. The result is that the world’s libraries are full of books that are still under copyright, commercially unavailable and, in many cases, "orphan works" with no known copyright holder. Copyright has exhausted its function, yet the works remain trapped in the cultural black hole.

emoticon_tongueRead for Pleasure blogs at Access Romance about the concept floated by Ursula Le Guin that more prizes should be handed out for literature instead of less. (They do this at Romantic Times).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Diane V
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 11:01:27

    Regarding the Boston prep school getting rid of its library in favor of electronic readers I think that the kids will be missing out on the nostalgia that the smell of a new book would give them years from now.

    I’ve been buying a bunch of books for a elementary school library in a depressed area of my city and I’ve been bringing my great new finds (I’d recommend “I Need My Monster” or “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever”) in to work for other people to look at before I donated them to the school.

    I can’t tell you how many people have smelled the book as they opened it and commented how great “the new book smell” is and then tell me about a favorite book. These kids won’t have that memory.

  2. Laura K Curtis
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 11:01:36

    That prep school only has EIGHTEEN eReaders to give out? I wonder how many students they have. The article says:

    “Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we're building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books,'' said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books. “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school.''

    I’m not sold at all. I was never the kind of person who could study in a library, and I am still not the kind of person who can read long materials on a backlit screen. I can’t “study” material on a screen at all. That means I love reading fiction on my Kindle, but when it comes to studying and non-fiction, I still want my physical book, and I want to take it out of the library so I can sit somewhere like Starbucks or whatever.

    This is the part that makes no sense to me:

    “In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”

    My local library has study carrels. You can also use your laptop there. They didn’t spend $20k to make them “laptop friendly.” They just have a wireless router in the library and they have electric outlets along the walls. And how are all those students who are supposed to be studying without the eReaders (because they don’t have enough for everyone) supposed to concentrate with the three large flat-screen TVs?

    Gah, the whole thing drives me up a wall.

  3. Clothdragon
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 11:34:43

    Let’s discuss the digital divide too. If books really do go extinct how do the people too poor to have regular electricity educate themselves. Only by sitting in the library when there is time. Nothing left to take home. And already some libraries have to ration computer time to an hour or half hour at a time.

    I may be a dinosaur clinging to my books, but where I grew up books were my best companion and the only way to see a world beyond poverty alcoholism and abuse. The idea that children may not even have that escape in the future is just heartbreaking to me.

    I know this example is one high cost private education school, but if others follow this example…

  4. Stevie
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 11:40:19

    Presumably the small people at the Boston prep school will grow up and attend Walden; as ever, Gary Trudeau nailed it first:

    http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/

  5. Nadia
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 12:32:53

    Great. Each device can access millions of books, but only eighteen students may do so. The rest can…just remain uneducated and barely literate. Or if they care, they can look up stuff on the Internet using their laptops.

    I don’t get it. They already have books that the students can use freely. Why get rid of them?

    BTW — TVs & coffee shops? Guess the prep school needs to make some moolah selling coffee to their students?

    I suspect someone owns some Amazon & Sony shares…or something.

  6. kirsten saell
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 13:29:01

    Regarding the copyright issue, I think limiting the length of copyrights to something reasonable–not the Google Settlement–is the way to deal with the problem of orphan works. I’d be much happier, I think, with something more like 40 years or lifetime plus ten years–whichever is shorter, than having an entity like Google be in a default position to get their fingers into everybody’s pie.

    All you have to do is give a decent amount of time for authors to monetize their backlist if and when they break out, and give their kids a bit of time to cash in on the whole “author is deceased, finite supply/increased value” thing.

  7. Caroline
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 14:30:24

    What happens when those 18 e-readers get checked out and lost, or broken? Will people still be able to use the library?

    It’s an interesting thought, but as the parent of a middle schooler, who regularly rescues thumb drives, cell phones, and calculators from clothes tossed in the laundry, my instinct would not be to spend a lot of money on anything a teenager can leave on the bus.

  8. hapax
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 15:09:52

    I saw that article about the prep school last week, and read it to my teenaged daughter. I threatened her that if I ever wanted to punish her, I’d enroll her there.

    Her response was that she would smuggle her own personal book collection (500+ titles and growing) along and establish an underground library for “real people who actually READ, not lame electronic poseurs.”

    Her words, not mine.

  9. Katie
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 16:44:43

    While I don’t believe that replacing a library with a cafe is a great idea, I’m not totally opposed to Cushing’s plan. Although I read quite a bit and check out about 5 books a week from my local library, I only checked out 1 book from my high school library during my 4 years there. It rarely had new fiction that I was interested in reading and I did most of my research online (I’m not talking Wikipedia here, but online databases of newspaper articles) or at the public library. In an elementary school or middle school library, getting rid of a library would be terrible because it is during these years that students are learning to read (and learning to love it) and it gives them greater access to more books. But in a high school (Cushing is grades 9-12), I think that students are more likely to use a space that is comfortable to study (in groups or alone) and browse the web. Of course, I would much rather see some sort of study area/cafe in ADDITION to the library, but the school is probably more interested in what the students would like to use.

  10. mingqi
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 18:18:43

    read the article about how Cushing is eliminating its book collection. Was totally shocked by the amount of wasteful spending the school is committing itself to and lack of careful thinking. the disadvantages are many and even your average person can see them. I can understand cutting down on the number of books and putting the ones not used often into storage, thereby creating more space for computers….but to get rid of everything is insane and to have the student population rely on a handful of ereaders to read their books. I know that Cushing is a prep school and the students are probably well-off…but I’m pretty sure there are a few students there whose parents are barely making the tuition payments. These kids will have to refrain from borrowing ereaders from the library for fear of losing them and incurring a $400 fee.

    and sticking in a coffee shop at school. Seriously, the caffeine addiction will kick in by college…no need to encourage it so early.

    and i bet this is a conspiracy to jack up the tuition. and a conspiracy to weed out the less affluent students.

  11. Jody
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 21:09:14

    underground library for “real people who actually READ, not lame electronic poseurs.”

    Disguise and password required.

    One of my college professors claimed that in fifty years we’d all be sitting in dark caves reminiscing about the people we used to know who could read and do math.

  12. Caligi
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 21:44:11

    Ha, I doubt anyone at Cushing is just getting by. Day tuition is $30k+ and boarding tuition is $40k+. There were no less affluent students to weed out. Cushing is up there with Milton and Phillips-Andover. It’s more than private, it’s elite.

    Regardless, I think it’s an oddball thing to do, but I have no doubt that the students’ families can go pick up ereaders at $300 a pop like us little people buy beers after work.

  13. NKKingston
    Sep 09, 2009 @ 02:46:38

    On the one hand, after three years at a uni where I was regularly set books that were out of print (some of which went out of print in the 20s!), and of which the library only had one copy, the eReader idea appeals. On the other hand, only having 18? I don’t know what their library is like, but the one I used to use regularly had over a hundred students in it. It regularly had hundreds of students looking for the same single copy of an out-of-print book, thanks to our English department. And despite having three floors there weren’t enough desks, especially at essay time; if most people hadn’t actually been able to [em]borrow[/em] the books I don’t know how we’d have coped.

    I could see it working for a small collection or restricted section, where you’re not allowed to remove books anyway, but for a whole library you either need a very small student body or a lot of very well timetabled students. Personally, I’d rather take a book home to study; preferably a book filled with someone else’s notes and thoughts and random doodles, but I’m the kind of philistine who always advocated writing in books, especially if they’re going to be read by someone else in their future. That’s something that’s rather lost with most current eReaders.

    Re: copyright – I don’t think you should have to request it (I live in the UK, it’s automatic and I’m very grateful for that) but I do think term should be reduced, maybe just to the author’s lifetime, with only certain rights extending beyond that. Estates end up with a lot of power, and though of course an author’s work should still provide for his or her family after their death, I think 70 years is way, way too long. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if it ran out within the author’s lifetime, if there were options to renew and a limit on the number of times you can renew – or options [em]not[/em] to renew, so anyone else who wanted dibs had to wait until the current holder gave a definitive “no”. And maybe received a proportion of the royalties on whatever was done with it by the new copyright holder?

    Say the term was 25 years; Author X realises the novel 1 has come up for renewal. It’s never made much money and the author has little attachment to it now, so s/he decides not to renew. Author Y buys the copyright, rewrites it, and republishes it. Author Y receives the advance and two thirds of the royalties, author X receives the other third, since s/he was responsible for the original idea. Filmmaker Z buys Y’s version, and the royalties from the film are split in the same way. And so on.

    It’d probably all grind to a halt quite quickly, with a lot of disputes, but at least people would have access to it.

  14. votermom
    Sep 09, 2009 @ 07:56:29

    hapax, your daughter rocks!

    I bet the Boston prep school’s e-collection gets hacked and trashed this school year. I mean, perfect target for bored students .

  15. Marleen
    Sep 10, 2009 @ 08:07:19

    Regarding the extra small new Dutch book format:

    Books are not shortened or written to be extra short for this format.
    The secret to its compactness lies in the use of extra thin paper (40 grams or even 25-22 grams) and a specialised way to print this thin paper. Not surprisingly, the printing house is specialised in Bibles.

    The pages read like those of a normal paperback book because the pages are printed to be read from side to side, not top to bottom. If you open the book, the two pages form one “normal” paperback page – hence the name “dwarsligger”.

    Being Dutch myself, I have access to more info than is available in English..

  16. Jane
    Sep 10, 2009 @ 08:49:18

    @Marleen I think I was taken aback by the “matchbook” size. If you get your hands on one of these “dwarsliggers” would you come back and tell us what you think of them?

  17. Marleen
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 09:45:15

    Thanks for your interest in my comment!
    Today I bought a “dwarsligger”. It is indeed very small – 8,3×12 cm = 3.26×4.72 inches, and 1,3 cm = 0.5 inch thick. A small size Moleskine is a good match for it in size.
    It looks beautiful, and I’ve already started to read it. The book I bought is a crime novel (it won the “Gouden strop” for 2009, the Dutch award for best crime novel of the year), and it is indeed the unabridged version. It cost 12,50 euros (Dutch books are more expensive, mainly because of smaller print runs I assume), and the normal size version (trade paperback) of the same book costs 19,90 euros.

    You read it by holding the book sideways – compared to a normal book the print is vertical so you read from side to side not top to bottom. They’ve really tried to make the book as compact as possible, so the white margins at the page edges are smaller than normal and chapters do not start on a new right-sided page.
    The fond is small, but not too small – comparable with the smaller fonds used for mass market paperbacks.
    The paper is very thin, but feels nice and surprisingly firm. Not at all comparable to those cheap old-fashioned tiny bibles, my first association. I wondered about solidity (after all, you have to flip the page twice as often compared to a “normal” book), but the book is bound (sewn in) not glued, so that is a good thing.

    It can be tricky to flip the right page due to the thin paper, but the book is very light, easy to hold in one hand and it stays open easily, unlike the fatter mass market paperbacks who want to flip closed all the time causing cramped fingers.

    All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised. I don’t know whether it can beat e-books by being as compact and easy to use (I don’t own an e-reader, in fact I’ve never even seen one in the flesh since they are not widely on sale in mainland Europe), but it is certainly very small and lightweight and very easy to read at the same time!

  18. Jane
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 09:52:02

    @Marleen I have to confess I am really interested in the dwarsligger. When I first read about it, my knee jerk reaction was “this is not a good idea” but now, I’m keen on getting my own copy. I wonder if bookdepository sells them.

  19. Marleen
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 10:05:28

    I don’t think bookdepository (great store!) has them – they don’t sell Dutch language books. So far, they are only available in Dutch. http://www.bol.com sells them, but they charge 17,35 euros for delivery in the USA which is a lot. I could send you one, but you probably wouldn’t be able to read it…

  20. Jody W.
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 13:19:31

    I wonder if the library at that prep school had stats on how many students actually checked books out and what books they checked out. Like someone else said, hardly anyone in my high school ever checked anything out of the library, and everything in there was ancient. When we had research projects, maybe, or we went to a larger library with a better selection.

    Not that I think an all-ereader library is a great substitute (considering how much stuff is NOT in digital)…OR a “coffee bar”…but it may have figured into the decision.

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