The issue isn’t “books”

What makes a library a library?  This discussion has been rambling around the blogosphere and press for much of this year.

To add to the ongoing discussion, yesterday’s New York Times debate  “Do School Libraries Need books?” examines the widely publicized decision that the Cushing Academy(MA)  made to remove all of their library books and create an entirely digital school library, and then invites four experts to weigh in on Cushing’s decision. 

The “experts” weighing in all felt like it’s important to retain books in a library collection, for a variety of reasons, which I tend to agree with.

But as a librarian, I do love one thing about the vision that the headmaster of Cushing, James Casey, presents–the library as an active learning hub filled with students: 

Our library is now the most-used space on campus, with collaborative learning areas, classrooms with smart boards, study sections, screens for data feeds from research sites, a cyber cafe, and increased reference and circulation stations for our librarians. It has become a hub where students and faculty gather, learn and explore together.

 I don’t see this sort of environment as mutually exclusive of printed books.  In fact, an article in this week’s Education Week, “”Libraries Seek Relevance Through Virtual Access” which features a number of vibrant library programs proves that true.  

Slide1-300x225  The article depicts the vibrancy and learning  in libraries(including ours) that are simultaneously physical, book-filled, and virtual all at the same time.   These libraries are all active and vital learning environments in their schools, and books are just a part of the “mix” of ingredients in the library “kitchen” that Joyce Valenza speaks of.

2010studentreading    But I also think we’re really considering the wrong issue here: books. 

The issue is not really books.  The real issue here is what one conceives a library to be. 


Many of us are agreed on the most important core belief–that the library should be a learning hub for a school (or a community).  And this should be a hub where there are four things–abundant resources, information guides(librarians), customers(students/teachers) and a collaborative atmosphere.

Sadly, when schools eliminate books, there’s sometimes the assumption that then there’s no need for a librarian, as if handling and storing books is the primary function of a librarian.   So it is pleasing to see the headmaster of Cushing and Education Week clearly recognize that the services of information guides, teacher-librarians, production managers–whatever you want to call librarians–are still significant to learning  as are abundant resources, access, and students that want to learn in the space.  

At a time when cuts in library staffing are occurring all across the country, it is important to understand the importance that the librarian plays in creating this type of learning hub. 

And we need our teacher and administrator friends who find what we do valuable to speak up for libraries across the country as libraries change and grow.  Now is the time to speak up for your library–write letters to the editor, Superintendent, legislators, and Departments of Education and let your appreciation be heard.   Speak up for staffing, for budgets, and for the equitable ways libraries serve ALL our students and create vibrant, welcoming environments for them.

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