Do School Libraries Still Need Books? in an Era of Internet Research and Downloadable Books, Some Educators Question the Need for Printed Collections

New York Times Upfront, April 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

Do School Libraries Still Need Books? in an Era of Internet Research and Downloadable Books, Some Educators Question the Need for Printed Collections


YES An online library cannot replace the unique collection of resources that I like--many school librarians--have built over a period of years to serve the specific needs of my students, faculty, and the school's curriculum.

One of my primary responsibilities as a librarian is to teach information-literacy skills--including defining research questions, selecting and evaluating sources, avoiding plagiarism, and documenting sources. In my experience, this works best face-to-face with students. That personal interaction is supported by the electronic availability of materials but is not replaced by it.

Librarians also encourage reading, which is crucial to student success. Focused, engaged reading is more likely to occur with printed books than with online material.

Today's students, digital natives all, shouldn't miss out on the unique pleasure of getting lost in a physical, book. Research shows that the brain functions differently when reading online versus reading a book, and different formats complement different learning styles. Books help develop longer attention spans, the ability to concentrate, and the skill of engaging with a complex issue or idea for an uninterrupted period of time.

Unlike an e-reader or a laptop, which may provide access to many books but is limited to a single user, a printed book is a relatively inexpensive information-delivery system that is not dependent on equipment, power, or bandwidth for its use.

One of the beauties of libraries is that we keep up with new technologies, but we also hold on to the old things that work well. We don't have to choose between technology and printed books, and we shouldn't.

--LIZ GRAY, LIBRARY DIRECTOR

DANA HALL SCHOOL, WELLESLEY, MASS. …

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