No more libraries???

May 19, 2011

I never thought it would happen, but apparently the days of the school library may be numbered.

On the surface, the idea seems absurd. Schools are places of learning. Having a huge collection of books in one place is an excellent way to facilitate learning. Therefore, leaving aside the issues of getting kids to enjoy reading (which I’ll get to in a second), it would seem a matter of practicality to equip schools with libraries.

Yes, technology is changing. We rely more on the Internet for research, and last I heard, Amazon was selling more e-books than actual print-and-paper books. However, that does not subtract from the importance of books as a research source. Do me a favour. The next time a set of encyclopediae is handy, look up a topic of your choosing. Then, boot up your computer, access the Internet, and search for the same topic. I’m willing to bet you’ll end up on Wikipedia.

I’m also willing to bet that it took much less time to simply open a book. Then, since I’m such a gamblin’ soul, I will make one final bet that the information in your print encyclopedia was reviewed and fact-checked, making it more reliable than the encyclopedia that “anyone can edit.”

And this is just looking at libraries from a purely academic point of view. These are school libraries on the chopping block. School libraries are instrumental in exposing kids to books and making the world of reading an accessible one. I cannot count the hours I spent in my elementary school library, devouring books that I found on my own as I perused the shelves, as well as those the librarian recommended to me. The Call of the Wild. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. From the Earth to the Moon. The Chronicles of Narnia. Sherlock Holmes. Ancient Myths and Legends. The War of the Worlds. Watership Down. Redwall. Silver Chief. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The Hobbit.

Notice, if you will, the presence of a lot of “older” books: Verne, Wells, London. While my school library certainly had books for a younger audience, it also carried the classics. So, when you read everything of interest in the “little kid” section, you naturally moved on to some literature that, in hindsight, was extremely good preparation for the rest of my schooling, as well as my current writing.

I don’t know that it would have been possible in a public library. Don’t get me wrong, I love public libraries too, but… many of them are a lot bigger. The librarians don’t often know you as personally, and can’t always provide that individualized recommendation. They can’t say, “It’s about a magical land, with a wicked queen and a lion who saves the day. It may be a little scary, but I think you’ll like it.”

Too often, we hear news stories about how kids don’t read, kids don’t use their imagination, kids don’t have any attention span anymore because they’re too hooked in to TV and video games. Growing up, my home was well-stocked with books because my parents were huge readers. But not every child is so fortunate. Nor does every child have a public library that’s close and easily accessed (which is a tragedy too).

And yet, if you give kids the opportunity to explore books freely and comfortably, they will eventually find something that makes their imaginations soar. Then you have a reader for life.

Reading is like drinking seawater. The more you drink, the thirstier you become.

Keep them thirsting for more.




  1. It was in my elementary school library I learned that ants have a keen sense of smell and that Thor was once tricked into drinking the sea. Although I love the recent decades’ advancements in technology, even as they revolutionize the book industry, I will be saddened to see school libraries fall by the wayside. Nothing beats the utility of a paper-and-glue book. After today’s Rapture at 6PM, all of us left behind may find that the electricity has shut off (earthquakes do that). Without a means of charging batteries, all those folks who rely on e-readers may be out of luck when it comes to novel entertainment. But, so long as the sun rises, the book will be accessible.

    — david j.

    • You’re absolutely right: books have a unique quality all their own. I suspect that even with setbacks like this, and further changes in technology, they’ll persevere.
      However, I notice that I still seem to be sitting at my desk, no one has mysteriously vanished all day, and there have been no reports of earthquakes. Guess we’ll have to wait until 2012 after all. 😛

  2. My hometown was small enough that the library wasn’t daunting at all. The librarians knew my siblings and me, and were more than happy to help us search out even the oddest of books. (My just-younger sister and I went through a period where we were entranced by all things occult, for example.)

    Still, I loved my school libraries, where I could check out books even on days I couldn’t make it to the public library. The librarians really knew me, and loved setting aside recommendations specifically for me.

    Your concluding statement equating reading with drinking salt water sums it up perfectly. Tweeted.

    • Interesting- I’ve only ever lived in large cities. I’m glad to hear there are public library systems that maintain the personal touch!

  3. Terrific post, Arvik.

    I loved my school library ~ for research and for pleasure reading.

    I don’t understand how schools could afford to offer art, drama, music, gym, and libraries “back then” and can’t now.

    Probably because the administrators are paid too much money for making stupid decision. Like cutting out funding for the libraries.

    • That’s a really good point. With all the emphasis on education today, how is it that schools have less and less? It’s a shame that things like music, the arts, gyms, and libraries are seen as disposable “extras,” rather than essential components of a full, well-rounded education.
      Luckily, I found an article this morning which stated that library circulation in the area’s largest school board is actually near record levels. 🙂

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