Sunday, October 4, 2009

Libraries are changing.

Joanne Jacobs writes of The bookless campus — with cappucino
For $44,000 a year, parents can send their sons and daughters to Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school that boasts a “bookless campus.” ... snip ...
Cushing is disburdening itself of its library’s 20,000 books and spending $500,000 to establish a “learning center” ...snip...
spending $42,000 for some large flat-screen monitors ...snip...
$20,000 for “laptop-friendly” study carrels. ...snip...
In place of the reference desk, “a $50,000 coffee shop with a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”

When I was in high school in the ’60s, our library was renamed the “Instructional Materials Center.” I got in trouble with the library staff for making fun of the change in the school newspaper. But we still had books.

Stacy felt "It’s idiotic. Throwing the baby out with the bath water. Why not leave the library as is and add additional resources? The students will use what is useful." Richard wondered if they had a copy of Fahrenheit 451 in their library.

Neither of these commenters or Joanne seem to get what is happening here. This private school is running an experiment and we all need to pay very close attention to the results. The world is changing and this is but one of the avenues ahead of us. We need information so we can choose correctly and wisely.

Joanne says "But we still had books." Sure, Joanne, but in the 60s, that is all we had. I remember. I was there, too. School libraries are being deserted. Their old ways of operation need to change or we're going to be hiring a librarian to sit alone amid piles of fire hazard instead of helping kids research, which is what she should be doing.

Should we spend money on computers or more books or a third option I haven't thought of? Which type of books, software, bandwidth? Should they bother with an encyclopedia if no one opens it EVER? Should they purchase the OED for $995 (leather bound, 20volumes) or for $198 on 2 CDs or tell the kids a link to an on-line resource? With every student having a computer and a campus-wide wifi, where would you spend YOUR money?

Without knowing the specifics but having been in public and private schools for years, I would point out that the books in the Cushing were probably great when bought but weren’t being replaced as needed. New books that were purchased remained unused. Somebody made the leap to "Kindle is cheaper."

“The students will use what is useful.” Obviously, Stacy has not been in education recently if she thinks that students will find books useful. There isn’t a student alive who would voluntarily use a book when Google is at hand. The library was most likely devolving into a place for computer stations and tables, with books stored “over there behind the SmartBoard.” Richard has it equally wrong - no one is getting rid of the story, just the paper it's written on.

They probably had several encyclopediae, too — how’s that working out for a library in this age of Wikipedia and Google? I’m not saying that the Internet is preferable but it’s the resource chosen by the students.

If librarians are honest with themselves, they have to admit that their job descriptions are rapidly changing and their collections are becoming outdated and ignored.

I applaud the gamble. At least the experiment is being done with private money in a voluntary setting — anyone who can afford Cushing can afford another, equally desperate for tuition, private school.

It is now up to the public school community to let this experiment to run its course, for the data to be crunched as to its effectiveness and for the surveys to be compiled detailing how the educational experience changed as a result. Did the teachers notice a drop-off that can be correlated to the library changes?

I for one, would like to know. Our library is rapidly changing, too. The librarian is putting in more workstations and the shelves are gradually moving back to the wall and closer together so they take up less space. As she retires books, the ones she purchases are less likely to be subject-oriented and more likely fiction, magazines, and other light-reading material.

While I’m sure I don’t like it, I have no evidence that the kids will miss the books. I also can’t see that the faculty can or will do much about it and don't seem to miss them either. The English department’s been building “classroom sets” for years for all the books they need – they rarely visit the library anymore. History uses the computer labs more than anyone, even science, and neither group has much in the way of “Books that aren’t Textbooks.” Heck, for most classes, the library is the “overflow” computer room rather than a reading resource.

That last paragraph is probably what bothers me the most. The librarian's JOB is to help the kids research. Why is all of that research being done in the computer lab without her? Is this why we're having a bigger problem with plagiarism? I know many of our teachers drop the kids off and "let them go for it" when they never would have done so in the library. Are they really learning how to research from the teachers? Should we ban the teachers from sending their kids to the computer room to do research? Does the librarian know how to really use the Internet or is she just going to sit there at her desk and wait for the kids to ask questions? Maybe the librarians need to take a hard look at their profession and this experiment.

So many rhetorical questions, so little time.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I was wondering if I was the only one who thought this way.

    Our town has been trying for the last couple of years to replace the current library, which is about 15 years old. An anonymous donor put forth $1M toward this purpose. Supposedly, since city accepted the gift, that means it is required to follow through with the donor's wishes. It bothers me, though, that any additional initial expenses plus the ongoing support of a new facility would fall on taxpayers who may have been happy with the current setup.

    I have wondered if traditional libraries are even relevant any more. In large cities, like Seattle, they are magnets for homeless people, who use the computers and bathrooms, as well as the shelter. Other patrons complain that these expensive facilities are attractive nuisances!

    I had not used our library in years, since our two oldest kids were young. Even back then it was hit or miss whether the library system would have a book that you were looking for. Recently our youngest son badgered me into taking him to the library to get a card and check out a book. He was very disappointed to find that there was only one Michael Crichton novel on the shelf. I think he was expecting a cornucopia of books! He did check out the book, and now I remember why we stopped going in the first place. We didn't get the book back in time and paid a fee.

    Obviously there do need to be repositories for archived historical materials and documents, and libraries do serve this purpose. However, with most people having internet access, with books being more easily available (especially inexpensive used books), and with more publications going online, I don't know that traditional libraries are all that useful any more.