Dear Librarian: Books vs. Computers
(This was originally posted at my blog site)
Dear librarian of my son’s school,
First of all, I want to thank you for being a librarian. I can’t think of a more important job. Your task is to place the right book in the right hands of the right child at the right moment, and when hundreds of kids are coming through your doors every week, I am in awe of your profession’s charge to reach every child. I also know that you need to be keeping track of so many new books each year, so that you are on top of the latest works of literature. And now, on top of all that, we are expecting you to be proficient media and technology specialists. Your role is constantly shifting. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. But librarians are nothing if not adaptable, and wise. I admire what you do.
I know that you are new to my son’s school this year, and therefore, you have to carve our your identity as the librarian. The last person in that library, an aide who filled in as librarian, did her best for many years and we are thankful for her years behind the desk. At least, the library was open for children. We didn’t necessarily like that she was so strict with our children around the books they could take out. We still don’t understand the day our niece came home and told us that when she (a second grader) tried to check out a fifth-grade level book that she really wanted to read, she was denied because it was not a “second grade book.” I have trouble getting my head around that, don’t you?
So, we have high hopes for you. You are young and energetic, and we like that you are offering after-school enrichment programs. You connected with the kids right from the start, it seems. Our son would come home, talking excitedly about going to the library. But we began to notice something strange.
He never had a single book in backpack.
All last year, after every library period, he would have a book for the week. He’d pull it out and we would read it together. Sometimes it was something new; Sometimes, it was an old classic. But he always had a book after going to library. This year, no books. His backpack is empty on library day. Instead, he has regaled us with talks of what he has been doing with the computer while in the library. He’s made little animated movies, created slideshows, played plenty of online games and more. All very nice.
But … no books.
We were hanging out with some other parents the other day and one of them noted that her child told them (and we will take this story for what it is and consider its source) that you told their class that if they could not behave themselves, they would not be allowed to use the computers and instead, they would have to spend their library time with books. “As if that is a punishment,” this mom said, shaking her head in exasperation. “If the punishment is quietly reading a story, then bring it on!”
I think I get what is going on. The push for technology in our schools (which is a priority of your principal) and the lack of expertise among your staff (which we know all too well … this child is our third) has you front and center with Animoto, Glogster and Go Animate. Sure, the kids are loving it. I get it.
But, please, in the hype to be teaching 21st Century Skills, don’t forget the power of the book. Don’t forget the quiet moments of story. Don’t forget the magic that can truly happen when the right book finds the right hands, and touches the right heart. You won’t find a bigger advocate for technology skills than me, but I want my son to keep loving books, too, and not just the ones that flash across the screen. I want his fingers and eyes and brain to move across the page, to connect an author’s ideas to his own experiences. I’m not ready to give up paper for bytes.
And it’s not just for my own child that I write. Here, in our home, we immerse our children in books and writing. You should see the stacks of books that we bring home from the city library. You should see the piles of books in our living room. As a librarian, you’d be very happy. No, what I worry about are those children who come from homes that are not immersed in literacy. Those children, and those families, need you more than ever. They need to have the love of reading and books instilled in them. You can make a difference in their lives just by allowing them time to read, and to choose what to read, and to help them navigate that experience.
Please, turn off the screens and open up a few books with the children of the school. There’s nothing more important for you to do than that.