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January 28, 2010
Julia Russell Eells
Head of School

Room for Books*

With this “On Our Minds” article comes a confession: a guilty pleasure of mine is going to bed early with a glass of milk, a stack of graham crackers, and a good read.  Last night my companion was the latest edition of Newsweek and I was struck by the photo of editor Jon Meacham at the top of his weekly editorial.   Pictured is a thoughtful, engaging man in front of a shelf of books – books that we assume are a reflection of what he reads and what he values.  In the hallway across from my office, hangs a portrait of Lincoln Headmistress, Frances E. Wheeler (1926-1938).  She stands in a stately pose with her hand on a stack of books – perhaps ones that guide and inspire her.

This morning, I held a meeting in my office during which a parent commented on the books on my shelves.  What do they say about me?  Not that I plan to get my portrait taken in front of them in the near future, but my guess is that my office visitors would deduce that I care about teaching, inclusivity, girls, public and educational policy, and that I can’t let go of a few favorite art history texts.

This September, the Headmaster at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts declared that books are an outdated technology and that the library is removing its stacks and retrofitting the space to accommodate e-book technology.  And today, Apple introduced its iPad.  They promote the iPad on their website by saying, “It’s hard to believe that we could fit so many great ideas into something so thin.”  I don’t find that hard to believe.  I am just enough of a technology junkie that I recognize (and appreciate!) that we are moving toward something that will be different.  We get our music, podcasts and movies over the Internet and carry them around on our iPods and I know that news, classroom textbooks and literature will be consumed digitally.

However, the comfort and companionship of a book is something that I hope will not be lost in future generations.  I look forward to reading books (complete with my crayoned name printed on the inside cover) to my grandchildren that were once read to me.  I love to look at my bookshelf and remember when my friend and I read In the Time of Cholera together, or return to a classic with my college notes scribbled in the margin.  I always have the Westport Friends Meeting House used book sale on my calendar a year in advance.  

Not unlike Lincoln celebrating our 125th Anniversary, this critical moment in digital versus print publishing reminds me that it is possible to move toward something (in Lincoln’s case, our bright future), without leaving everything (Lincoln’s compelling history and legacy) behind.  So move forward, we will.  And we will see more Kindles and iPads in our hallways and in our classrooms.

However, nothing makes me happier than chatting with one of our girls about the book she is curled up with while waiting on the front steps for her ride home.  As long as I am able I plan to carry my dog-eared paperback to the beach, to treasure my old Nancy Drew mysteries with which I played “library,” and to return to the stained pages of favorite cookbooks.

I also love that books still “work” when graham cracker crumbs get lodged between the pages.

*with thanks to Doug Alexander for inspiration



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