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Academy begins chapter on 'bookless' library [Sentinel & Enterprise, Fitchburg, Mass.]
[August 15, 2009]

Academy begins chapter on 'bookless' library [Sentinel & Enterprise, Fitchburg, Mass.]

(Sentinel & Enterprise (Fitchburg, MA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 15--ASHBURNHAM -- Officials at Cushing Academy are heading into the Fall 2009 semester with plans to drastically change the way students access information well under way.

In an effort to work as "leaders in 21st century education," Headmaster James Tracy said switching to an electronic system in the school's Fisher Walkins library, with virtually no hard-copy books, is a way to introduce a much wider array of information to Cushing students in a faster, more mobile manner.

Even without hard copies, Tracy does not like to think of the new system as a "bookless" one.

"We love books. We love them so much that we want our students to have access to as many books as possible. (The electronic system) has a much larger array of information and literature than ever before," said Tracy. He said students will now have access to millions of volumes online.

The Cushing student body is comprised of 450 students in grades 9-12, as well as prep students. They come from local towns, different areas of Massachusetts, other states, and 25 countries.

All students have laptops, said Tracy, which made the decision to switch to an electronic library system this spring easier and cost-effective. He said librarians researched and determined their students already use the Internet for most of their school research and entertainment.

In addition to their existing net library, the school purchased 12 Amazon Kindles, which are like portable notebooks onto which electronic books can be downloaded by plugging into a computer. Six Sony E-Readers were also purchased. E-Readers are similar to Kindles, but can download information outside, and seem to be better suited to textbooks.

"The thing that's great about a Kindle is you can add to its collection in about 10 seconds," said Catherine Pollock, Assistant Head of School. She thinks students will like using Kindles for pleasure reading.

"It frees them up from having to be inside the library," Pollock said.

Though, with construction now in progress, that may not be such a bad thing. Along with bringing information access up to the cutting edge, library renovations should be complete by October. Students will be able to enjoy better access on new walkways, a cyber cafe, and screens mounted on the walls televising the latest research and technology from all over the world.

Now that half of Cushing's 20,000 books have been donated to area schools, Tracy said there will be more space available for presentations and student gatherings. The remainder will also be donated, though the school will keep a handful of books that were donated to Cushing, or are valuable for their antiquity.

Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham is in the process of bringing some of Cushing's donated books into its library, said Ashburnham-Westminster Superintendent Michael Zapantis, who called it a "fantastic opportunity," for Oakmont. Stevens Memorial Library in Ashburnham will also receive books, according to Cushing officials.

"I think it's great for Cushing to share some of their resources, given the fact that public schools are always struggling for additional funding and research and reading materials," said Zapantis. Like Cushing students, Zapantis said Oakmont students continue to rely heavily on Internet resources in the library too.

Tracy said he does not know of other schools that have taken such an aggressive approach to introducing electronic libraries, but he hopes Cushing will be the pioneer.

"We think this is the wave of the future," said Tracy.

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