Lamar's eLibrary


Lamar High's Library Ousts Books
Replacements: Coffee Shop and E-Books!


Just adding a coffee shop to a neighborhood library so people can feel like they're in Starbucks and ultra-hip was apparently too passé a trend for Principal James McSwain of Lamar High School.

Finishing up the week before Thanksgiving, McSwain has thrown out nearly all the books and filled the space they were unnecessarily taking up with couches and coffee and food and told his students that they can access the exciting world of reading through e-books! And if they don't have a laptop of their own and Internet access to do so, they can use one of the laptop computers in the library coffee shop!

He's even expanded the library coffee shop hours to 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and he's bought 35 new laptops! For a Houston ISD flagship school with more than 3,000 students in it.

A veteran educator who visited the school a few weeks ago said most of the books were already gone by then. "There were a few down one side. They assured me they're getting rid of those as soon as they could. The plan is to turn the whole space into a coffee shop run by students."

Students will be able to access places online such as Questia, an online resource facility, she told Hair Balls. There's books online, too, but, as she put it, the selections are limited. Her reaction:

"I was appalled. I can't imagine what he was thinking. I'm assured this is old-school thinking, and we should just appreciate that they're not old-school thinkers."

The change, she said, was "designed to impress the new superintendent [Terry Grier] with the forward-thinking nature of that particular principal at that particular school."

She said she was told one teacher who had kids after school working on their volunteer hours was asked to send them to the library to "get rid of the books." She said he asked what they meant, and "they said they didn't care; just get them out of here."

"He said it didn't seem like a good thing for the kids to do. They got somebody [else]. My impression was that most of the books were thrown away. Some of them may have been donated."

Hair Balls tried to reach McSwain; he would only speak to us through HISD's Sarah Greer Osborne. This is what she told us:

"The school library has been updated. It's got a lot of new electronic equipment. Most of it's e-books and new laptops and they're putting their money, instead of into paper, they're putting it into electronic resources.

Yes, there are still books there, but most of it is now e-books where the kids can check out the book, and as long as they have Internet access they can read the book. The library is now open from 6:30 to 6:30, a.m. to p.m., and he says the kids are eating it up; they have never seen so many kids in the library before. They only did this a week ago, and he says the number of e-books being checked out is through the roof.

He says the kids love it. They did put coffee and food in there so the kids, when they're staying after school and before, the kids can have a little coffee, read a book. It's just like Starbucks. Except they're providing the books as well. The kids are eating it up; that's what they want. They want the e-books."

The veteran teacher wasn't as excited. "It's just stupid. I'm sure there's more to the story, and I'm sure that they can make it sound better than I'm making it sound to you, but in the end it's a terrible story.

"There's no way to get hold of a book on the campus to read for pleasure or to use to write a paper. If you don't have access to a computer of your own, then you have to compete for one of the computers that are in the coffee shop."

The teacher said the whole thing breaks her heart, but she can walk away from it. At least she's not the Lamar High librarian, whose library has been "repurposed," presiding over a coffee shop with all those swell couches.


There is a ton of stuff each day on the Houston Press blogs; you’re only getting a taste of it here in the print edition. Head to (or “/rocks” or “/eating” or “/artattack”).


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