Digital books replacing print in schools
Why a prep school in Massachusetts replaced its library books with digital versions, and colleges are moving to electronic textbooks.
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Cushing Academy, a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, is replacing 20,000 of its library books with digital versions, and converting its library into an interactive media center.
Dr. James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing Academy, told the "Boston Globe" recently: "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology -- like scrolls before books."
It's caused a firestorm. The American Association of School Librarians wrote to say libraries are built over time, and that reading online doesn't focus the mind the way a book does.
Tracy says he will hire more librarians to help kids navigate through the school's online library, as going digital means the library will be expanding, "from 20 thousand volumes to five million volumes."
"For those of us who were raised on printed books, we of course see them as sacred temples. The fact is that the students of today are entirely adept, facile and comfortable with electronic technology.
According to Tracy, the school conducted a study and found that only a small number of its books were circulating, and its students weren't referencing books in their papers; instead, they were, "citing Wikipedia or worse sources."
"And so what we feel is, if that's where they're going, then we want to provide them with the tools to become more successful," said Tracy,
The school is investing a substantial amount in its library, which includes $500,000 on a learning center, $42,000 on flat screen TVs and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study areas. The school will also lend out Kindle books to the students.
"We actually find that it's cheaper to go with the electronic book," said Tracy. "We typically would spend $30 for a hard cover; we're typically spending about $20 for an e-book access, and we get six copies simultaneously so we're able to give them to six different Kindle users."
Tracy says the school has been an "entirely laptop school" for many years. "So by creating this plethora of online resources that are available electronically to the students, effectively the largest library human history travels with them everywhere they go on campus."
This year, the major college textbook publishers released half of their titles in digital format. And they come with some bells and whistles: some have software that automatically grades homework, lets students share their notes, or links a professor's taped lecture right to the online textbook.
Additionally, Amazon is sponsoring an e-textbook experiment this year with Arizona State, Princeton, Pace University and four other colleges.
And, some major textbook publishers have started a company, CourseSmart, to sell their titles electronically, giving students access to their texts on computers or iPhones.
Jeff Young of the "Chronicle of Higher Education" says students will get the electronic textbooks through, "kind of like an iTunes music store for textbooks."
The electronic versions are about half the price of a printed textbook and allow for search, and making and sharing notes, said Young.
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