I received my copy of ISTE’s Learning & Leading with Technology in the mail this weekend and I found the editors’ two selected answers to that question that has been bouncing around the ISTE Ning for a while: Do schools still need brick-and-mortar libraries?
Here’s the full question:
Google has settled the lawsuits and is moving forward in its quest to make the holdings of the world’s major libraries available online for free. Several university libraries have already started digitizing their collections, including Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Princeton, Cornell, and Columbia, as have such esteemed libraries as the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. And the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is taking this trend toward digitization a step further by eliminating its physical library altogether. Do you think K–12 public schools should follow suit? In this era of bare-bones budgets, can schools afford the real estate and the payroll it takes to support a brick-and-mortar library when free digital options are available? Are there benefits to having a brick-and-mortar library onsite beyond the content of the books?
Doug’s response was absolutely honest and reflected the need for brick-and-mortar when schools value such things as: collaborative activities, project-based learning, information and media fluency, voluntary reading, differentiated instruction, quality content, inquiry, authentic assessment, and new information and communication skills.
Keith’s words truly saddened me. Though I know he represents the view many well-respected professionals have of school libraries, as a long-time card carrying ISTE member, I am embarrassed that these words appeared in ISTE’s Learning and Leading. Along with many other SIGMS members, I have been attending every NECC/ISTE meeting trying hard to represent.
Friends, we need to do something quickly if we are going to shift this view of what libraries are or should be.
It is clear that Keith has never seen the stuff that happens in a vital brick-and-mortar library or the kind of hybrid program that is possible when the library supports its intructional program with its online presence. Keith doesn’t ever mention any of that stuff. (See some lists of stuff in my Manifesto wiki or My 2.0 day and the response/rant about our cover argument or 14 Ways K-12 Librarians Can Teach Social Media. or David Loertscher’s work on school library as learning commons.)
"Whether or not we need brick-and-mortar libraries" is NOT the same debate as whether or not we should read a book in a print volume or on a computer. And, perhaps the question itself is the wrong question.
Keith’s argument against brick-and-mortar facilities:
No. Schools need places to hold words and ideas and a way to access those words and ideas as efficiently as possible. Hard drives are far more economical, in every sense of the word, than massive spaces holding bound volumes.
He shares a teaching experience:
One day teaching in Harlem, I knelt next to a student struggling to comprehend a passage about Mars. He re-read the words to me, then I said, "Okay, Mark, close your eyes and make a mind movie about what you just read. Now, tell me what you see?" Without opening his eyes, he looked at me and blurted, "I see black!"
If we’d had a computer in our classroom connected to our school’s digitized library — the world, and in this case the entire universe — within literally a minute I’d have helped Mark comprehend what he’d read. Sure, we had a library upstairs, but it may as well have been on Mars. I couldn’t forsake the rest of my class to take one child on a Mars quest. So, probably alone, the librarian sat in her information monarchy.
And he shares his experience as a dad:
Now I’m teaching my son to read. On my laptop with a digital camera, I’ve written several leveled books for him. Just two weeks ago, it warmed my father/teacher heart when he insisted on sleeping with his arm around that laptop.
And he shares his experiences as a student:
I read Hamlet 20 years ago as an undergraduate at UVa. About all I remember from the play was the "Words, words, words" quote. With five minutes of digitized research, however, I was well on my way toward writing this. Were you fooled? I’m not that smart, but that’s exactly the democratization of information Mark and I needed that frustrating day in Harlem. With it, we’ve all got a fighting chance.
Now as a graduate fellow in the Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education, I’m thrilled beyond words that Virginia’s Curry School is leading the trend toward digitization, eliminating its physical library, nearly in its entirety. With Google digitizing 50,000 volumes, and with so much physical and virtual space now available, creativity is our only limit. . . which is no limit, indeed.
Keith, if you think it’s about digital books vs. print books, you haven’t been in what I call a library. I wonder if you have ever seen a teacher librarian teach? Have you ever partnered with a librarian on a digital storytelling project? Have you ever used a dynamic library pathfinder? Have you ever relied on a library-sponsored database for your own graduate research? Have you seen the amazing collections of e-books also provided as part of library collections?
A school library is so much more than its volumes and shelves. My guess (or my hope) is that the librarian who sat in her information monarchy actually created Keith’s digitized library and made developmentally appropriate databases available to Mark, and helped him learn to search and evaluate some good stuff on Mars, and would perhaps help Mark find stunning video through a pathfinder, and would perhaps help Mark tell a digital story about his MarsQuest, and would perhaps share it safely, make it a part of the collection, and help attach a Creative Commons license to Mark’s work.
And perhaps Keith’s own son might benefit from the notion that books and stories might be shared, that books–old and new–have value for children, and that however wonderful that leveled digital book he wrote was, some authors have written leveled books (of both the print and e- variety) that might inspire his son even more cleverly and artfully. And perhaps his son’s teacher- librarian would involve his son in the story-writing and publishing process.
I wished the L & L question was posed a little differently.
It isn’t about whether brick-and-mortar libraries should exist. It is about what should be happening in vibrant library programs wherever they live. It should be about how teacher librarians guide students to reading and writing in all their glorious old and new formats. It should be about how teacher librarians help students become creative citizens, able and excited to truly participate in their current information and communication times.
And Keith, who uses a hard drive anymore?
And most importantly, wouldn’t our answer to whether we still need brick-and-mortar schools and classrooms be dependent on what type of activities, what type of learning, actually occurs in those physical facilities?