Florida Polytechnic “University” (it isn’t accredited) is making headlines this week by opening a bookless library. Instead of checking out traditional codex books, students will be forced to read class material on tablets, e-readers, and/or laptops. According to the middle-aged librarians and bureaucrats who run the school, a bookless library will appeal to the youth. Abandoning books will make the library more "relevant" to students, they say. Never mind that Pew has found that millennials are less likely to favor e-readers over traditional books than members of older generations.
Librarians eschewing books to cluelessly appeal to “the kidz” is reminiscent of nothing so much as aging fuddy-duddy fathers who try to appeal to their kids by speaking in already outdated hip-hop slang.
FPU's head librarian Kathryn Miller tells Reuters that, "it's a boldly relevant decision to go forward without books.” "Boldly relevant" is of course a bizarre standard to apply, insofar as it has no normative content. Sure, the decision is "relevant," arguably. But more important: Is it wise? Is it prudent? Will it serve the students?
The evidence suggests that it won't. Two recent studies have found that electronic readers are in fact inferior to traditional books in many ways – particularly when it comes to retaining information. As Scientific American reports, "Evidence...indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that...prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way...such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done."
And so FPU's attempt at "relevance" may result in producing nothing but a more poorly educated, distracted group of students. With librarians like the ones at Florida Polytechnic University, who needs Philistines?