Education Opinion

Are School Libraries Becoming Obsolete?

By Patrick Ledesma — April 23, 2012 2 min read
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Mrs. Carmenates, school librarian and guest blogger, and I recently had a discussion about Linda Braun’s article Next Year’s Model in the School Library Journal.

Next Year’s Model tells the story of Sarah Ludwig, a former school librarian, who later became a technology coordinator at a school in Connecticut. Realizing that librarians are experts in information literacy, she was in a unique position to help students and teachers.

The article concludes:

Once you remove yourself from the physical constraints of the library, you have more freedom, because you aren't limited by the title and the expectations of the job. If you get out of your library and take your knowledge everywhere, then you become a resource--no longer the keeper of a physical space or objects. You can focus on the most important skills that students need. You can take a fresh look at your curriculum and decide what's really important for your students to experience."

Braun asks, “Is this the future of the profession?” Is Sarah the model of the librarian of the future?

This week’s blog post dramatizes our discussion.

Mr. L: “Hmmmm. What would it take for librarians to get out of the physical library and no longer focus on their responsibilities as Master of the Dewey Decimal System and the Art of Shelving Books?”

Mrs. C: “Very funny ‘Mr. I-Fix-Printers All Day.’ Well, helping teachers in the classroom has advantages, but can the space that we call a library ever become obsolete? What needs to happen?”

Mr. L: “Paper based books will have to be become obsolete.”

Mrs. C: “Well that’s already happening. People are reading more and more e-books. Libraries actually ‘loan’ e-books and are spending more of their budgets on e-books”.

Mr. L: “OK. A library loans books so people don’t have to buy them. So a place for loaning books will have to become obsolete.”

Mrs. C: “I can share books on my Kindle. And, many books over 70 years old are free online and in digital form when their copyrights expire.”

Mr. L: “Paper based books are accessible to everyone. Many students can’t afford a device like a Kindle, iPad, or some e-reader, but more districts are adopting 1:1 laptop or iPad programs where every student has a device. And price of technology is always coming down. The cheapest Kindle is $79! And what about those $249 iPad Mini rumors?

Mrs. C: “But how could every student in a district have a tablet?”

Mr. L: “What if textbook publishers developed some kind of mobile phone subscription model where they might just give away a cheap e-reader for every student in a district in exchange for a multi-year contract for exclusivity with digital books in a school system? And, what if all students were allowed to download or maintain up to, for example, three digital books of their choosing at any time? Sort of like the DVD model at Netflix or a book rental model like Books Free.”

Mrs. C: “Loaning digital books? We’d solve the problem of not having enough paper books of a popular novel- no more wait lists for students waiting to read the popular books.”

“Most kids approach me at my library desk to ask for book recommendations. If my desk was gone and if I had a school library blog and Twitter, they could get my recommendations for what is good to read.”

Mr. L: “And students could get other recommendations from student crowd sourcing or an open online rating systems of novels by students... So, perhaps the role of the librarian as a keeper of the library is becoming obsolete.”

Mrs. C: “Maybe, but teachers and students still depend on me for help. I think as long as I help teachers and students link information and media to the curriculum and be a resource where people can go for expertise, librarians as information experts will be more relevant than ever, in the library or in classrooms.”

Meanwhile a student walks in the library...

Student: “What are the library hours?”

Mrs. C: “7:30AM -4:00PM.......Getting access to books only when the library is open....Now that should be obsolete!”

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.