OWHL Books
September 27, 2019

The next chapter

How the OWHL is opening up education for all
by Rita Savard

Imagine a place where lives collide, ideas are born, and people are transformed. Step inside the newly renovated Oliver Wendell Holmes Library and you’re there—a campus hub where students, teachers, makers, innovators, artists and activists, seekers of community, and, yes, readers in the traditional sense, learn from the past and think of the future.

When the OWHL reopened its doors in September following a year of construction, the Andover community saw more than expanded classroom space and study areas, a new robotics lab, and 5,500-square-foot makerspace spread among the stacks. The OWHL has also become the first high school in the country to unlock its analog collections for a new generation of learners.

Thanks to a generous gift from Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, whose mother, Margaret Mary Lurton Kahle graduated from Abbot Academy in 1950, approximately 75,000 volumes—nearly the library’s entire collection—is available to students around the world. The OWHL’s books were carefully packaged and sent to the Philippines over the summer, where they were scanned and curated for the Internet Archive digital library.

Through this effort we’re sharing a unique and somewhat private collection with students around the globe. To me, that’s the most non sibi thing our library can do.

Mike Barker director of Academy research, information, and library services

Broadening access to knowledge for public good was a project bonus for Mike Barker, director of Academy research, information, and library services.

“Libraries are fundamentally about sharing,” Barker said. “We’re fortunate to have one of the most comprehensive high school library collections in the nation. We should share, and with technology we can. Through this effort we’re sharing a unique and somewhat private collection with students around the globe. To me, that’s the most non sibi thing our library can do, and aligns with Andover’s values of being a private school with a public purpose.”

Building a great library starts with great books. Since it was founded in San Francisco in 1996, Internet Archive has worked with authors, publishers, and more than 1,000 libraries, including the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library to grow its collaborative digital collection. But the OWHL, said Kahle, is the first secondary school library to join.

Partnering with the OWHL was particularly meaningful to Kahle. Besides his mother, Kahle’s aunt, Grace Elizabeth Lurton Miller ’45, was also an Abbot alumna.

“I want to live in a world where libraries want to share beyond their walls, to offer to help anyone wanting to learn,” Kahle said. “PA’s leadership in this effort warms my heart and gives me reason to be optimistic in a time that is full of pessimism.”

The wide-eyed dream of bringing universal access to all books largely remains a work in progress. Money, technology, and legal clarity pose hurdles for libraries along the way. Copyright law continues to challenge the idea of access for all with opponents, including the Authors Guild, arguing that digitization violates copyrights. Proponents, such as the Authors Alliance, have described the measure as good-faith interpretation of copyright law for libraries, in which digitized works are circulated in the same fashion as print copies.

Through controlled digital lending, a library can digitize a book and lend the digital copy in place of the print—provided the print copy is not simultaneously used (so if a print copy of the book is checked out, the digital copy cannot be borrowed and vice versa). Comparable to a due date slip, once the time limit for borrowing expires, digital copies are erased from the borrower’s electronic platform. Students and others outside of Andover who wish to access the OWHL’s collection will be able to search, browse, and borrow through the Internet Archive’s website.

As libraries shift from the analog to the digital era, the OWHL, said Barker, is proud to be an example of leadership in sharing. The move is especially important now as school districts across the country struggle with library closures and layoffs. According to a 2019 report released by the American Library Association, only 61 percent of school libraries have a full-time librarian.

“Libraries have always been spaces to explore human potential,” Barker said. “And at Andover, speaking of the future always means speaking about the collective future—one in which all are included and sharing knowledge.”

Categories: Academics, Magazine Online

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