Saturday, January 4, 2014

Going Bookless: Does it Have to be All or Nothing?

School libraries have very different missions from public libraries, and thank goodness our public library colleagues are innovating and launching new service models. The San Antonio BiblioTech Library   offers glimpse of bookless future  which is certainly doing wonders for developing a new user base.

As we were in the planning stages of building a new high school with a state-of-the-art learning commons I was asked how much space we would need for shelving. It was an interesting question because space was at a premium. The state of Massachusetts has set guidelines on space allocation for new school projects, and we needed to decide how much of our space would be for books, and how much for collaborative activities and student workspaces. I remember clearly saying "I don't want to prioritize books over student activities." And I didn't, because two years ago I was all about going bookless. Since then there has been a shift in my thinking.

The biggest shift came from my students, specifically those voracious and brilliant readers who chew through books and bang their fists on the table, and show up in school wearing black because a beloved character was killed. These students read digitally when on vacation because otherwise their suitcases would be filled with books and no clothes. Their fervent preference was to read physical books. Despite all my arguments their firm preference for deep reading was print. (Abigail Reyes in the BiblioTech article states the same preference.)

There were two articles that particularly resonated with me and contributed to my shift.  How Reading Makes Us More Human (The Atlantic, 2013) clearly reinforced the attitudes and behaviors of my students. However, it was The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens (Scientific American, 2013) that really fueled the change in my thinking. The short version is that the mapping/navigation function of the brain occurs in the same area as reading, and contributes to comprehension, specifically in deep reading experiences.

Our new school is scheduled to open in spring of 2015 and our learning commons will embrace a bookless philosophy, but there will still be a place for books on the shelves. Our print collection will focus on high interest print fiction and narrative nonfiction, with room for high interest classics and core reference. We will continue to develop our ebook collection reference holdings and expand the audio collection to reflect high interest fiction and narrative nonfiction.

In the meantime, I have to chuckle and wonder as I reflect on my own preference for reading digitally. The Kindle is light which makes it easier on my wrist, and enlarging the font makes it easier on my eyes. I learned to read print and wonder if this early navigation/mapping contributed to making me the reader I am today? My preference would be to get all my reading material for free digitally, but because of the chaotic state of the industry and limits on availability of titles/licenses to public libraries, this isn't going to occur anytime soon.

Hopefully our learning commons collection will support our developing high school readers across all platforms, and help them build the skills to become passionate readers in the future. Just as long as they continue to read with passion, bang tables, and weep and rejoice over books.

Photo credit: Robin's iPhone, Creative Commons Attribution License