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Do Libraries Matter?


From the changing-world department: An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal laments the displacement of libraries in today’s learning environment. While many adults “recall the libraries of our childhoods as magical places,” writes columnist Jeff Zaslow, kids today—virtually weaned on Google—“feel little connection” to the local stacks. “The library is removed from their lives,” comments one retired librarian. “It’s a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out.” Zaslow believes the trend has a direct educational impact: As students become more reliant on the Internet for schoolwork, he says, many get to college with little sense of how to use the library for research. They may also be missing out on deeper kinds of learning and discovery. “The library is about delayed gratification,” says Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor quoted by Zaslow. “It’s about browsing through the shelves of biographies. ‘Do I want Jackie Robinson? Franklin Roosevelt? What will I do when I grow up?’ The library slows you down and makes you think.”


The timing of this article is impeccable. As a high school teacher-librarian, this is the reality of my daily life...as students insist on using Google (and thus, the most common first hit, Wikipedia) for history research that was designed (by the classroom teacher and I) primarily around using a mix of quality print and online materials. I coax, encourage and yes, bribe, students to use the databases the district and state purchase for them, I show them the speed at which a book can be used (by god, an index!), I remind them about authenticity and validity of sources...and more often then not, Wikipedia (or the whatever the first page of Google brings them)'wins.'

So, I ask myself, what is the problem...and what is the solution? Is it me and my "old fashioned" ideas? (I am only 37...I don't feel old fashioned!) Is it instruction and expectation- give them the criteria and set the standards for what resources they should be using and INSIST they use print? I feel like as a teacher, I embrace technology, on-line resources and new ways of sharing information but at the same time, I value what print materials offer. I know their credibility, I know they are organized, and I know that students don't know it all. And when I do instruction in the library, showing them a few research strategies, sometimes it feel as though I am just slowing down their well-worn path in the carpet....right to the computer terminals.

As a parent of two children, I have found it very difficult to get them to our public libraries to study, or to do research. Many libraries close very ealy. I just did a quick search of our locations and times on line. We have 39 libraries (not including college campus libraries) in our county. Of those, 27 of them are closed on sundays, 11 are open from about 12-5 pm. On mondays (school days mind you), 11 close by 5pm, 1 is closed for the day, and the remainder close between 7:30 an 9pm. 3 more are also closed on saturdays. As a working parent who does not get home until 6-6:30 pm, it leaves little time for the library. The weekends, as you can see by the hours of operation, are extremely limited. My highschooler then has two choices; the internet, and a book store that is open until 11pm.
I do not see the libraries servicing students, I do see the hours of operation are great for retired persons to visit, and give them a place to go during the day. The hours of operation are great for stay at homes who can take their children to libraries during the day before 5 pm. But realistically, how many of us can quit our jobs to go the library? We work out of neccessity to put food on the table and pay the electric bill, not to get our nails done.
Maybe the counties need to consider extending the hours of operation. Until then, the Net and the local bookstores will have our attention.

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