Thursday, February 11, 2010

Format bigotry or What exactly is a book?

The New York Times article Do School Libraries Need Books? hits a nerve. Kudos to the articulate and informed library professionals and advocates who were interviewed for the article, even if I disagree with most of their conclusions.

Over the course of the article there are so many references to the tangible experience of paper.  Books and paper have strong sensory, emotional, nostalgic associations. Over and over again I have had people explain with passion how they love the feel and smell of books and the weight of holding it in your hands. Nobody comments on how heavy a book is, how you can't take that many in your suitcase for vacation because of the weight, or holding it in bed at night. Nobody mentions that with paper you have no chance for digital accommodations like text-to-speech which allow greater access to all learners.

These same strong connections carry over to the idea of the library. We all know and understand what a library is, what it does for us, and how to use it. We know it is a quiet place dedicated to learning and inquiry. We understand the librarian is there to help us navigate the process of acquiring knowledge and building meaning.

We all want students to love reading, to become effective users of information and life-long learners. These goals are no longer enough, and our emotional connections with the familiar are holding us back. If we want libraries to survive and remain relevant we need to play closer attention to schools like Cushing Academy, because they are blazing the trail for all of us.

"Our library is now the most-used space on campus, with collaborative learning areas, classrooms with smart boards, study sections, screens for data feeds from research sites, a cyber cafe, and increased reference and circulation stations for our librarians. It has become a hub where students and faculty gather, learn and explore together." 
This is a perfect illustration of a learning commons, and it isn't a quiet space dedicated to books. It is a dynamic, energized space students recognize as valuable and pertinent to their needs and education.  Hmmm....

"...they need more help from librarians to navigate these resources, so we have also increased our library staff by 25 percent."
Many other programs are facing staff cuts, yet Cushing needs to add staff to support increased demand for  student learning. Hmmm...

"Cushing Academy today is awash in books of all formats. Many classes continue to use printed books, while others use laptops or e-readers. It is immaterial to us whether students use print or electronic forms to read Chaucer and Shakespeare. In fact, Cushing students are checking out more books than before, making extensive use of e-readers in our library collection. Cushing’s success could inspire other schools to think about new approaches to education in this century."
Readership and circulation is up. Hmmm...
Our bigotry toward diverse formats of reading must end, because it is denying students access to skills, content and collaborative possibilities. Reading can be solitary and books reinforce the role of the reader alone with print. But knowledge and creativity are global. The time of the student alone in the metaphorical stacks or being "lost in a book" is over and has been replaced with connection, new perspectives, and a broader and more dynamic canvas for learning. 

Reading is more relevant and critical than ever.  Paper and books aren't going anywhere. However, if we want robust programs, increasing readership and to become the hub of learning and skill-building for our schools, we had better diversify and start offering our students greater choice.

Good job, Cushing. I'm taking notes (some on paper, and some are digital.)

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons


Uploaded on September 30, 2009
by spikeblacklab

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Anonymous Somelibrary said...

Robin, you have hit one of the nails I keep taking shots at! I keep telling everyone who asks me "Are books history? Are we going digital?" that it isn't an either/or. It really is a question of what you consider a book. Isn't a reference source that is "live" and includes current information preferable to one that has dated and incorrect information? Isn't a magazine or newspaper just as desirable for its current events if it doesn't generate pounds of paper waste when it is no longer current? Now that I think about it, maybe I do need a kindle for my next vacation. I can carry 3 novels and NOT pay the extra baggage charge!

February 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Robin Cicchetti said...

Nicely said, Somelibrary. We are on the same page - hahahaha.

February 12, 2010 at 12:12 PM  

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