Apples and Oranges – Part Two: Place

As many of you know, two weeks ago, Apple launched iBooks 2, its new digital textbook software, and I am exploring the impact of this new technology in terms of People and Place.

When I was a student at Queen’s University, I had a few favorite places – if I was in a social mood, I went to Mac-Corry; if I had an essay due, I remained in my room at 272 University Ave; and if I really needed to hunker down and study, I went to Douglas Library, to the Stacks.

In April of my second year, I found myself in that latter situation. One week before my Shakespeare exam, with five plays still to read (never mind study so that I could write something intelligent about them!), I remember packing up my Riverside Shakespeare and heading down University Avenue and straight down further to four floors below ground level.

In the stacks, my favorite study carrel was an old metal one with a limerick scratched into it. Now my Dad is famous for quoting poetry, but he never recited this one to me and my siblings. This was 1990 – before the Internet – and I swear I had never read anything like it. Although I remember feeling absolute shock the first time I read that limerick, the laugh it brought me each time I read it has stuck with me. And thus it became my study carrel.

So when I think of favorite places at Queen’s, I think of Douglas Stacks. Now, in truth, the lighting was artificial, the air was stale, there were huge dust bunnies everywhere – I bet it would not pass today’s safety codes! It did not enhance collaborative learning, was probably not safe, and any self-respecting person would have cleaned up that graffiti. But I loved it there: it was silent and private, and I got a lot done. Makes me wonder – do these kinds of places still exist? What does the future hold for school libraries?

To understand the future, one can look to the past, and Douglas Library saw rapid change over the years:

1966 – Douglas Library attained 500,000 books (It took 125 years to acquire them, between 1841-1966)

1969 – Books were put into Douglas’ Reserve Reading Room and had to be signed out (Remember when you had to wait to access readings?)

1974 – Douglas Library attained its millionth book. (This time it took only 7 years!)

1980 – Douglas introduced the rule of no smoking in public spaces, including the stacks. (Really? In the same decade that I started university, people could smoke down there??)

1994 – Stauffer library opened (and there were large windows, big study tables, and no stacks)

2007 – Douglas had 2.2 million physical items and over 400,000 electronic items including 324,000 e-books. (But with the opening of Stauffer library in 1994, it was rarely used by undergraduates.)

As educators planning for the future, and as boards planning for today’s children’s children’s school, we should ask ourselves: what will the ideal study spaces of the future look like?

In recent history, we have Cushing Academy, the school that got rid of most of its collection and turned the library into a coffee shop, and High Tech High, the hugely popular school with no library and a Head who claims that future learning spaces can be summed up in one word: glass. Both places enhance collaboration, transparency and happy students. Are these ideal learning places?

Most schools have yet to understand – and plan for – the impact of digitization of information on places. My hope is that our CAIS schools look to the best of the past in designing places of the future….that we don’t just go from apples to oranges, but maybe blend Apples with apples and oranges.

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