I have a unique appreciation for the value of books. As long as I can remember, my family has collected them. Bookshelves are present in every room in my house. When we last attempted a count, we gave up in the neighborhood of 5,000.
It may be slightly surprising, then, that I do not condemn the transformation of Houston’s Lamar High School’s library to get rid of books in order to add a coffee shop and e-books. Needless to say, this was not the most popular move. One of the more critical articles in the Houston Press used words such as “appalling,” “stupid” and “terrible.”
However, it is easy to miss the larger picture in a kneejerk reaction. Books were reduced by slightly more than 50 percent, not eliminated. The books removed were ones that had not been checked out recently 8212; one in more than 30 years 8212; books in poor condition and books that could be found easily online. How many books were realistically lost to students?
Laptops and access to Questia, a research database, were added to the library’s resources for students. Library hours were extended. And, do not forget the original point: the books were replaced with electronic versions.
Much of this simply comes down to a change in the way students are learning now. When we want information, we often do not reference books. We Google.
The Internet has changed the way we conduct research and acquire information. Traditional libraries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Lamar High’s change reflects this. Increased access to electronic resources and to the Internet are what students increasingly prefer.
Of course, this neglects the whole issue of the coffee shop. On its face, a trade of books for a coffee shop makes little sense. But this coffee shop is designed to be student-run at a school that has a magnet program in business management and will be staffed by students in the culinary division. Books may or may not be read, but the students involved in the coffee shop’s operation seem sure to learn something practical.
There are certainly issues with this change. Students who do not have Internet access at home obviously cannot access these resources at home. Not all computers will be used for learning and e-books may not all be read. Studiousness may decrease in the library area. Who knows how this will play out in the long-term in the school’s budget?
That being said, books can still be requested from other libraries. Internet access has been effectively increased for students who do not have it at home, and access to resources has greatly been increased for those who do. The coffee shop may even turn a profit for the school. On balance, it seems hard to reasonably condemn what the school has done.
I love books, and I rarely get rid of one. However, the books in our library at home have been more or less useless to me. What I find most helpful are the databases and articles that the library gives me Internet access to. Times have changed, and more schools should adapt to that.
Jason Lam is a junior mathematics major from Chicago, Ill.