does not seem possible but yesterday's paper showed the empty shelves of one of our high school libraries. It has "gone digital". The shelves are empty. The books were donated to charity.
I am still almost too stunned to write this. A school cannot survive without books. An e-reader is not a substitute.
Yes, e-readers have a place. They are a fact of life. They are useful in all sorts of ways. A visitor told us yesterday told the Senior Cat and me that she knows of a 92 year old who wanted an e-reader. Why? You can adjust the size of the print and she can now go on reading. That is a wonderful use of technology.
But -get rid of all the books in the library simply because e-readers are available?
Quite apart from the fact that this is an appalling waste of a valuable resource now it is going to be almost impossible to replace it in the future. Quite apart from the cost of doing so many of the books will be simply unavailable. They will be out of print. They will not be available as e-books.
Some people will say this does not matter. They will say other books will replace those which have gone. They will say that what was there in the past is not important. It is what will be there in the future, that the students will have access to the most up to date information.
The problem is that students will only have access to what is there on their e-readers. They will not have access to a library. They will not be able to browse the shelves, open a physical book and skim a few pages. They will not be able to pull two, three or four physical books from the shelves and see which one suits their needs.
Far from expanding the amount of information available to students the policy will restrict what is available. That may not be the intention but it will be the reality. If the information is not immediately there on the e-reader then many students will go no further. They may not have the capacity to go further. Searching the internet takes time. It takes skill. It takes money. How many teenagers are going to be keen enough to search for material this way when they could once have spent ten or fifteen minutes in the library and found a half a dozen resources? Are we going to reduce initiative? Are we going to dull the sense of achievement?
Fiction may suffer even more. It is one thing to browse the library shelves in search of something to read. It is another to download an e-book and read it. Adults who praise the advent of e-books tend to forget that they already know something about reading. Children and teenagers still have to learn about reading. They may already have managed to learn to read but that is not the same thing. If we are to learn about reading we have to develop other skills. We have to read many books. We have to read a diverse range of books and authors. We need to be able to find the known and the unknown. We need to be able to challenge ourselves.
A new author cannot come simply by word of mouth, by the recommendation of others. Experienced readers will find new reading material in other ways. Often it will be by browsing the library shelves or searching a library catalogue for books similar to one they have already enjoyed or for a genre they think may interest them. E-readers in schools will not work that way. The fiction which will be downloaded will come from teacher recommendations and peer recommendations. Both of those sources of recommendations will be made on the basis of what they already know and on advertising. These are not necessarily going to provide the diverse reading matter that a physical library offers. Many students will download material because they are told they must or because one of their friends recommends it. They will not browse.
The psychology is simply wrong. Books reflect our aspirations as a society. They represent our past and our future. If we do away with access to them then are we also doing away with ourselves?