Friday, 23 January 2015

Yes, we need libraries!

Am I really having to say that all over again?
Nicola Morgan has been saying it all over again too - over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure". Nicola isn't the only one either. I sent on what she had to say to someone I know who used to run the library at one of my old tertiary institutions. He read it and then sent a message back saying "What in the hell do they think they are doing? Kids need libraries."
And then I mentioned it to someone who used to work in something we called "The School Libraries Branch".  She looked at me in despair. "Things started to go downhill when we stopped calling libraries "libraries" and started calling them "resource centres". Perhaps she is right. I don't know.
I know teachers who seem to think that the lack of libraries doesn't really matter. They believe the children can get all their resources on line. I hasten to add that these teachers are in the minority and they may not be the best teachers. Some seem to think it does not matter in "their" subject area - usually maths and science.
There are other teachers however who say things like, "They need to know about books. They need to know how to use books." In the past week one teacher, about to go back to work in a tough school, said to me, "Some of my students need a place where they can go and find a book for themselves. They don't want me telling them they "must" read something. They need to be able to browse the shelves and lose themselves in a different world."
Over the summer school holiday period I have watched children and teens going in and out of the library. So many of the younger ones run ahead of their parents or grandparents in their eagerness to get into the library. Those of primary school age are usually lugging a bag over-flowing with books and DVDs they have borrowed. They want to know what activities the library has planned and what's new on the shelf.
The "young adults" or "teens" are different. They tend to sneak in furtively, as if they don't wish to be caught there. They pretend to wander nonchalantly around, as if they are really not very interested in being there. Borrow a book? Yeah. Maybe. Don't let your mates see you doing it. Once in a while the "nerds" might gather. The seats are comfy. They can get their phones out. I've seen them text a friend and then realise, with some embarrassment, that the friend is in the next book bay!
Yes, they still read. But, something happens on the transition to secondary school. The "homework" is suddenly greater. More of them are allowed to go to and from school alone. They stop off at the shopping centre in the afternoon. They stand around and talk to friends. The opposite sex is more interesting. Somehow there is less time to read.
If we then tell teens that reading is not important by taking away their libraries in schools - that place where they can browse the shelves and where it IS acceptable to be seen because it is a normal part of school - then what are we doing?
As a child and a teen I absorbed an enormous amount of information through reading. I did it in a way that television and the internet cannot do. I went back to books. I am not in the least musical but, in our house, "The Oxford Children's Companion to Music" was well thumbed by me and my brother. My parents had found a slightly damaged copy going out cheap in a bookshop which specialised in children's books - alas, the place is no more. We had many other books. We borrowed books even when we lived in the most rural areas. The Children's Country Lending Service let us do that.  It made us culturally literate - or at least partially so.
Something has gone wrong somewhere. It's not just "screen time". We're telling the next generation that reading is not as important. Really it is more important than ever.

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