When books don't belong at the library…

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Linda Braun, the teen-tech guru, wrote a very good post over at the YALSA blog late last week. Now, before I go any further, I will say that although Linda Braun is amazing at what she does, I don’t always agree with her views of teens & technology – or at least, the view she sees is very different from what I see. The teens in the area I serve know very little about the Internet outside of myspace & Runescape; in fact, when I asked about it, none of them had even heard of Second Life, never mind played there. But what she does is invaluable to a lot of us (even me!) who don’t use all the new-fangled technology as soon as its out there – & she often comes up with fabulous ways it could be implemented in the library.

Anyways! So there’s a school that’s decided to turn its library into a digital paradise – which means no more books. It turns out that as of last spring, only 43 books had been checked for the year, & many of those were children’s books for the facultys’ children (staff remain on campus). The librarian at this school is heartbroken, & librarians & bibliophiles everywhere are responding in hysterics, as though this one library (in a 9-12 boarding school; my guess is that its college prep) will be the first of many to do this. & of course, the eternal TEENS DON’T READ mantra that the media loves to tout; a thriving teen lit industry begs to differ. I’m very grateful to Linda for writing her post in which she asks us to give this more in-depth thought, rather than simply panicking over the loss of the printed word. Her points are valid & absolutely right – there are cons, but there are lots of pros as well.

Things that I would like to say about it, sans hysteria:

Thing 01: Many libraries spread themselves way too thin trying to offer everything, when in reality it would be better for resource expenditure & for their patrons if they simply sat down & really took a good look at the purpose of their library. Research? Popular fiction? Classroom support? My guess is that this school took a look at what was being offered, & chose to turn the library into a research center. The best way to do that, especially in a college-prep, boarding school with very connected teens, is to go digital.

Thing 02: If you didn’t have to buy books, magazines, & other physical materials, think of the databases & information you could purchase! These students will have access to so much fabulous material!

Thing 03: As an MLIS student, I didn’t use my academic library once. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. Rather, I should say, I relied on the electronic resources made available by my university that were accessible via the Internet – and from my apartment. But as for all those expensive reference volumes? Nada. In my reference work at my job, I only rarely need to use one.

Thing 04: If this campus is affluent, there’s a pretty good chance that these teens are used to purchasing their fiction. Generation X & later prefers the bookstore – it’s more hip, more inviting, & often times, friendlier. Sorry – the reference librarian stereotype exists for a reason. As long as these teens’ “reading for fun” needs are being met elsewhere, I’ve no problem with this approach.

Thing 05: My guess? These teens are connected. These are the teens all those companies aim their products at – these are the teens that use everything digital; their photography, their books, their music. They download tv to watch on their iPods. They do their assignments on their laptops at the mall. A digital library is going to be incredibly helpful for these teens.

Thing 06: If the librarian had no input, that sucks. Big time. What’s the use of her professional opinion if they didn’t even bother to ask her?

Thing 07: The printed book still reigns supreme, no matter what this school or what the folks at Kindle may hope you believe.

Thing 08: This school won’t be the last one to do something like this. It remains to be seen if this will be a viable option for more of us.

Basically, to sum up: is this radical? Sure! But if this meets the needs of the students, bravo for them. Isn’t the purpose of a library just that – to meet the needs of its users?

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