Innovations Make Cushing Library a Center of Campus Activity

Critics were shocked when Cushing Academy reinvented its Fisher-Watkins Library as a center for digital learning. Today – three years later – the change is a great success.

Headmaster James Tracy calls the new library a "digital agora."

"In the past, you would see two or three students in the library on a busy day. Now there are 100 or more," Tracy said. "It's the most popular spot in the 43 buildings on our campus."

Instead of traditional stacks of books, the library now makes web-based books and databases available to student laptops and e-readers. A "Cyber-café" has replaced the circulation desk, and librarian-monitors are available to help – in person and online.

"Cyber carrels" are available, as are quiet study rooms. Comfortable chairs are clustered at one end of the room in an open classroom arrangement. And a faculty lounge in the building facilitates informal meetings between teachers and students.

Students also make use of the library's Kindle e-readers for recreational reading, which has increased ten-fold, according to Tracy.
Some printed books remain in the library and are still used in classes, but the emphasis is on providing students with the technological skills and resources they will need to succeed in college and in life in the 21st century.

"We went from 20,000 books to several million," Tracy said. "Every student who has access to digital tools can have access to all of human knowledge."

Cushing's innovative library and educational model have attracted the attention of schools and colleges worldwide. Tracy has received calls from the Harvard Law School, Syracuse University, the University of Virginia libraries and other institutions,
and he regularly speaks before educational groups about the changes happening at his school.

The innovations are part of Cushing's long tradition of embracing the best of the future, Tracy says in his welcoming letter on the school website.

The academy was founded in 1865 as a coeducational boarding school, more than a century before many other schools went coed. Cushing also was one of the first private schools in the country to recruit foreign students and to support and mainstream students with learning differences.

"Cushing is once again the model that other schools emulate as the best of the new, woven seamlessly into the rich tapestry of tradition," Tracy said.