Will Your School-Agers Still Need Book Covers in Five Years?

BlogHer Original Post

E-books, man. They're infiltrating schools. Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Conn., got rid of the 20,000 books in its school library, trading up to flatscreens, Kindles and computers only. And now that Google has paired with On Demand Books (the company that invented a book vending machine), schools could potentially serve up printed e-books in the public domain like cotton candy.

I actually think e-books make the most sense in a university setting. College textbooks are insanely expensive, heavy and difficult to unload when the class is over. Carrying all my textbooks at once down to the union to sell back used to be back-breaking, and it was disheartening to turn in $800 worth of books and get back $50 four months later.

In graduate school, I spent hundreds of dollars every semester on fiction paperbacks, some of which were pretty obscure and most of which are probably now in the public domain. I kept some of them, but most of them were virtually unsellable after I read them and marked them up.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, some colleges are already heading in this direction, turning their Web sites into download centers for free e-books assigned commonly.

So the groups -- the National Association of College Stores and the Canadian Campus Retail Associates Inc. -- have pooled their resources to develop a shared system. Each store can integrate it into its own Web site, to let students buy and download an electronic text in just a few clicks, similar to the way Amazon and other online retailers do.

For high schools and elementary schools, I'm not so sure. Right now, they're still really expensive. And can you rely on kids to not break their fancy gadget readers? If you could, I'm sure schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars on printed textbooks that will be outdated in a just a few years. But for young readers, I think the physical book is necessary. I agree with Mary Pearson of Tor.com:

But there is an advantage that I think has nothing to do with old habits. A traditional book offers no distractions. No pop-ups, no games, no bells, no whistles. Just you, the book, and your thoughts. Time to sit, reflect, ponder, and make connections. How often when looking at a computer screen can you do that without the temptation to fill it with one of those bells and whistles? With a book the only bells and whistles are your thoughts. That is no small thing.

Even more eerie is the topic of censorship. I hadn't even thought about that -- and it always seems most worrisome in high school settings, when kids are reading books that will forever change the way they view the world. Philly Teacher points out that readers connecting regularly with the mothership can suddenly "lose" books that have been purchased if the home server removes them. He writes:

While I would like to believe that we are way past the days of banned books, the world will never rid itself of those who feel that certain topics, themes and words are not appropriate for our children. Should all of the textbooks and required reading texts in a school be accessed as eBooks, then districts can easily remove the book from use without having to collect books from classrooms and without discussing it with anyone first.

Um, yikes. Whether or not we love the idea of e-books, I suspect at least universities will move toward them because of budget concerns. What do you think? Is this a crazy idea?

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