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School Libraries in the 21st Century

I wrote a story for the latest issue of Education Week about the shifting role of school libraries in the 21st century. I talked with many librarians across the country about how technology is changing their jobs, the physical spaces of libraries, and the students' expectations of library services. Since the underlying mission of libraries is to be a hub of information, it makes sense that the Internet would in turn greatly influence the evolution of library media centers. The rise of e-book readers, as well, is raising questions about the digital presence of libraries and whether or not they need a physical space or even books, as this debate on the New York Times blog Room for Debate discusses.

The blog features a number of short essays on the topic, including one by James Tracy, the headmaster of Cushing Academy, a boarding and day school for high schoolers in Ashburnham, Mass. School officials there decided to make the transition to an almost entirely digitized collection in lieu of books. Tracy points out that although books play a much smaller role in the new library format, the library itself has become the best-utilized resource in the school, and they've actually increased the number of library staff available to help as a result.

Liz Gray, a library director at Dana Hall school, an all-girls school in Wellesley, Mass., takes a different approach by talking about the need to include both actual books as well as e-readers and other digital formats for students.

It's an interesting read and a great complement to the conversations I had with school librarians as I was writing my story. And the comments, both on the Education Week story and the New York Times blog, are well worth the read.

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