10 questions about books, libraries, librarians, and schools

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

October apparently was ‘Library Month’ for me. I was the keynote speaker for the Minnesota MEMO conference and did a breakout session for the Iowa Library Association (ILA) conference. I also brought Dr. Mike Eisenberg to Iowa for three days to talk with school administrators about technology and information literacy. As a result, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on books, reading, and the future of libraries and librarians…

Random questions

  1. What constitutes a “book” these days? When books become electronic and thus become searchable, hyperlinkable, more accessible to readers with disabilities, and able to embed audio, video, and interactive maps and graphics, at what point do they stop becoming “books” and start becoming something else?
  2. The Amazon Kindle e-reader currently allows you to annotate an electronic book passage with highlights and your own personal notes. Those annotations are even available to you on the Web, not just on the Kindle device itself. As Seth Godin notes, there hopefully will be a day when you will be able to share those notes with others. You’ll also be able to push a button on your e-reader and see everyone else’s notes and highlights on the same passage. What kind of new learning capabilities will that enable for us?
  3. If students and teachers now can be active content creators and producers, not just passive information recipients, doesn’t that redefine our entire notion of what it means to be information literate and media fluent? Are our librarians and classroom teachers doing enough to help students master these new literacies (for example, by focusing on student content creation, not just information consumption and/or interpretation)?
  4. The Cushing Academy boarding school in Massachusetts may be the first school in the country to have its library go completely electronic. In addition to using library computers, students now check out Kindles loaded with books. How tough would it be for other schools to move to this model (and what would they gain or lose as a result)?
  5. When books, magazines, newspapers, reference materials, music, movies, and other traditional library content all go electronic and online – deliverable on demand – what does that mean for the future of the physical spaces known as “libraries?” Mike Eisenberg said to me that we already should be taking yellow caution tape and blocking off the entire non-fiction and reference sections of our libraries. As content becomes digital and no longer needs to be stored on a shelf, with what do we replace that now-unused floor space: couches, tables, and cozy chairs? computer stations? meeting space? And if we head in these directions, what will distinguish libraries from other institutions such as coffee shops, community centers, and Internet cafes?
  6. Our information landscape is more complex than ever before. We still need people who know how to effectively navigate these intricate electronic environments and who can teach others to do so. But does that mean we still need “librarians” who work in “libraries?” Or will their jobs morph into something else?
  7. How much of a librarian’s current job could be done by someone in a different location (for example, someone in India who answers questions via telephone or synchronous chat) or by computer software and/or an electronic kiosk? I don’t know the answer to this question – and I suspect that it will vary by librarian – but I do know that many individuals in other industries have been quite dismayed to find that large portions of their supposedly-indispensable jobs can be outsourced or replaced by software (which, of course, means that fewer people are needed locally to do whatever work requires the face-to-face presence of a live human being).
  8. Can a librarian recommend books better than online user communities and/or database-driven book recommendation engines? For example, can a librarian’s ability to recommend reading of interest surpass that of a database like Amazon’s that aggregates purchasing behavior or a dedicated user community that is passionate about (and maybe rates/reviews) science fiction books, and then do so for romance, political history, manga, self-help, and every other possible niche of literature too?
  9. If school librarians aren’t actively and explicitly modeling powerful uses of digital technologies and social media themselves and also supporting students to do the same, should they get to keep their jobs? And if they are doing so individually (which is what we want), what’s their responsibility to police the profession (and lean on those librarians who aren’t)?
  10. There is no conceivable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superceded by electronic text and media. If that future is not too far away (and may already be here), are administrators doing enough to transition their schools, libraries, and librarians / media specialists into a new paradigm?

Reactions from librarians

I posed these questions in both my MEMO and ILA presentations, explained in more detail my thinking about each one, and gave participants time to talk with each other after each question. I even told them up front that they wouldn’t like some of what I said but that I had nothing against librarians and was just asking questions that I thought the profession should be discussing. Reactions of the few librarians from whom I’ve heard have been interesting…

Librarian 1 (I received this one indirectly)

[Scott spoke] to the Iowa Library Assoc conference this past week and he really was quite negative about the future of libraries and librarians with the technology shifts.

Scott is speaking a great deal for our School Administrators of Iowa and also to principals/supts through the AEA’s this year and I’m worried for the future of our profession in times of tight budgets with folks like Scott out speaking to leadership and not promoting the role that teacher librarians can play with technology AT ALL.

We had Mike Eisenberg here in Iowa this past week also speaking to administrators … which I think is a good thing … along with Scott McLeod … which may NOT be a good thing. The topic was information literacy, but in speaking with those in attendance at these Iowa meetings, I heard that the role of teacher librarians was not at all highlighted, and in in fact, I heard there was a bit of librarian “bashing” by administrators in attendance. (Now this is just hear-say as I wasn’t there to hear these presentations)

Now, I agree with you that teacher librarians need to be stepping up to the plate at this time and demonstrating the role that we can play with these 21st century tools, but am just wondering how we compete with loud, negative voices like Scott McLeod in Iowa? You know us polite Iowa librarians, we just kept quiet during Scott’s session and did not argue with him!

Librarian 2

I’m the librarian that said you scared the #### out of me! It’s kind of settled in now and I’m reviewing my job duties and seeing what I can do to stay “relevant” and to be a viable information contributor. Thank you for the thought provoking presentation!

Librarian 3

I want you to know that I have had a few of my professors writing me today about you.  They said that after having a few days to think about what you said, they are REALLY happy that they heard you speak. And that you spoke at the ILA Convention to the librarians there. Librarians and teachers alike need to hear the message of change. I also sent them the link to your blog and guess what… think you have some new followers now too.

Librarian 4

I had the opportunity to listen to you present at the ILA Conference yesterday. Your presentation was very unique compared to the speech you shared with the twelve laptop initiative schools earlier this month…. As a leader in [my] district and a huge supporter of the advocacy of information literacy skills, I feel that you underestimate the role of a good teacher librarian. I see the evolution of technology advancing and embrace what opportunities it provides myself, my fellow educators and our future citizens. You see, I was selected by my district to represent them at the 1-to-1 meeting and have been asked to attend [some of your future workshops] because of my leadership and my active role in the integration of technology. And, yes, I am their teacher librarian.

Being curious, I would like to know more about your work with teacher librarians. I’m afraid that you may have assumed the role of a teacher librarian as being one of ‘holding back’ the age of information. That is very far from the truth. Currently, we live in a world where both print and electronic information are accessible to all. My role is to support both realms and the patrons who use the material. While open access may soon be upon us, I know that I must help students and staff while this evolution is taking place. I know the importance of being visionary and open-minded while at the same time being grounded.

I would challenge you to collaborate with me and learn more about my role as a teacher librarian. I think the role of libraries and librarians is evolving. And, I feel that a good teacher librarian is the ‘Ace’ in an administrators back pocket! What other position in a school district revolves around information access, collaboration with students and staff, all while taking on a role as an educational leader in learning? Instead of demanding teacher librarians to ‘get out of the way’ if they are not welcoming technology, maybe we need to look at the role a librarian can play. Their opportunities to support the learning environment can become an asset. Some librarians just need to know in what direction to lead. I hope in the future you consider the value teacher librarians have in this ever-changing world. I know that I am thankful for the opportunities I provide the students at [my district], and I would like to think that they feel the same about me.

Suggested reading

If the topic of the future of libraries and librarians interests you, I highly encourage you to read the recent article in School Library Journal, Things That Keep Us Up at Night, by Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson. It’s caused quite a stir in the school librarian community…

37 Responses to “10 questions about books, libraries, librarians, and schools”

  1. In response to Question #4, I would be curious to find out how many schools with a Kindle program, are letting their students take home Kindles. We have just started a Kindle program at our middle school. Right now students may only use them in the classroom. I need to gather some data for my superintendent which supports Kindles should be allowed to go out of the building. Are 8th graders trustworthy enough to care for them?
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated! I would like to see the Kindles going home with the students.
    Thank you!

  2. Personally, I like the idea of schools using a Kindle as an option, if you’re not going to let the student to take them home there has to be an online database that the can at least read the latest lessons from.

  3. I’d also recommend this point/counter-point: Do schools still need brick and mortar libraries. http://u.nu/5chr3

    I’m definitely on the YES side myself and I think the opposite point of view demonstrates a lack of understanding of the school library media center and the school library media specialist. Has the role changed? Definitely. Has it changed quickly enough? Probably not, but we’re working on it. Check out the work of Doug Johnson, Joyce Valenza, Buffy Hamilton, Keisa Williams, Frances Harris, Sara Kelly Johns, David Loertsher, and many more.

    In fact, check out the tweets that will be coming from #AASL this week in Charlotte! Good things are happening in school library media centers everywhere for our students–including applications of technology AND books.

  4. I think that the discussion of “libraries” in this blog mainly considered public and secondary school libraries. We must remember the role of the elementary school libraries (and teacher librarians).

    There is no questions that an actual person must staff these brick and mortar libraries. Perhaps a secondary student could just as easily or more conveniently get advice and guidance online, but what about the 4th graders who comes into the library asking for help right now?

    Teacher librarians in the elementary school begin at the root – building the foundation for these young people to become information literate in the future – independent seekers and users of information. But in the elementary years (say, at least through 6th grade), these students need a place and a person. Teacher librarians collaborate with students and staff to help bring information literacy skills into the existing curriculum – in the context of what is being learned in the classroom.

    Elementary school teacher librarians also must keep up with changing technologies and help teachers and students begin to embrace them.

    Do we need librarians? Maybe not in the (old fashioned) sense of the clerical worker, but definitely in the (contemporary) sense of the information specialist.


  5. To Kathy or anyone else using Kindles – what arrangements needed to be made with Amazon to sidestep their license agreement? It appears to not allow sharing.

    Library Journal had a short blurb, but it is more than a year old.


    Did Amazon change it’s policy to allow sharing and distribution?

  6. Erlene Bishop Killeen Reply November 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I would be thrilled to work with students with individual laptops or to supply students with Kindles for reading. Would you like to sponsor my elementary school and purchase those pieces of equipment? Picture books that engage students in reading and thinking cost in the average of $19. each and are circulated for about 15 years in my library to my school of 425 kids. A really popular book will circulate around 50 times a year! Individual students will borrow an average of 120-150 books a year from my library. That doesn’t include the books that teachers read to groups of students or the videos of stories and information provided in classrooms. How do I provide that amount of reading electronically with public school dollars? I had 84 classrooms of kids into my LMC during the 19 days of october working on research and learning activities. I also had 24 literature reading groups discussing fiction titles they were reading. We are using everything we can get our hands on here to engage students! I am working faster and harder than I did 25 years ago as a librarian in a non-electronic world and I am constantly defending my job. Pretty disheartening!

  7. OK.. I’ll bite. Random Responses (not answers)

    1) This is simple technicality, but a book is a book. It is more or less the media or vehicle by which information is organized and delivered. I get the question is not really about “what is a book”… information delivery is changing, it has been for quite some time as it transitioned through various new media.

    2) What learning opportunities will be created when we can see even more information (annotated text on eReaders)? – I am not really sure. I have got to believe some limits on the human ability to consume and digest, and we already have more than we can. Does it get better when I can see everyone else’s notes on a piece of text?

    3) Students and teachers can now be content creators? – what were they doing all these years with paper, pencils, markers, paint, words, gestures, …? Sure, the audience might have been smaller, but is this really new? (and if so, why would it be assumed that it should be taught in the library and why is it assumed that it is not already?)

    4) I’m actually unsure about how I feel about this philosophically – it doesn’t actually sound like a good idea for my libraries to be beholden to what Amazon has or doesn’t have. If the library was so horribly used as it was in this story, I would think that other issues may exist besides what was on the shelves.

    5) Tape off the non-fiction section? Neat sentence that reduces a hugely complex problem (ie what is the future of how we store and transmit information) into one simple sentence that is too uncomplex. Do we need to consider change – absolutely as it is happening, but I am not going to pretend I’m either smart enough or have spent enough time studying the issue to have an answer on this one (but I don’t believe it is as simple of a problem as the statement leads on).

    6) Again – I am unsure of where libraries will transition or what will happen. I fear that more will happen because of economics than it will happen because of info-nomics (I just wanted those to rhyme somewhat). The changing nature of information will not force change as much as a bankrupt education system will.

    7) If our school libraries functioned in a manner where outsourcing were possible, than maybe it should happen. I know our school system’s libraries do not function in this manner as our school librarians are outstanding at being teachers and collaborators – not just reference help. I think you would find this in the majority of American public schools.

    8) I bet there is an interesting thought process that goes on when a school librarian recommends books. I wonder what they do think (I am not a school librarian). Interesting that the question would assume that this could happen easily without assistance (try this with a 3rd grader sometime).

    9) This is the same nonsense thinking that has been in some earlier posts. If not “A” then “B” where “B” is losing your job. This is all assuming that “A” is the perfectly correct and perfectly agreed upon role. I doubt that it is (what content to teach and by what means is rarely a highly agreed upon subject). Do we all believe that a trait of highly effective teaching is the personal use and teaching of social media? If that is the case, what evidence supports this idea?

    10) Have administrators done enough to transitions? No, because schools have not transitioned as a whole to a new paradigm (and so libraries have not either). But there are so many reasons why schools have not and some of it not the fault of people inside the system (no time to write on this one though).

    While I am a regular reader of this blog and often times find myself agreeing with Scott, I am on a whole different plane on this one.

    These are not the types of questions one would ask if one was seeking dialogue and understanding. These appear more to be along the lines of, “I have a preconceived notion – please tell me why I am wrong”.

    I like the other kind better.

  8. Hi Joel, thanks for playing along. Obviously I have some thoughts of my own on all of this, but I believe these are genuine questions that the library profession needs to be asking itself. A few responses to your thoughtful comment…

    2. I agree that the sheer number of comments could be overwhelming. Maybe our comment mining capabilities will improve down the road. I’m guessing our abilities to see only the comments of people in certain groups would improve too.

    3. Fair enough. But of course students’ content creation abilities are exponentially greater than before, as is their potential audience. That’s why it’s an information ‘revolution.’ At some point, quantitative changes become qualitatively different. I think we’re at that point already.

    5. At the risk of speaking for him, I think Mike’s point was that, generally, the materials there are increasingly out-of-date, too expensive, incapable of being easily searched or hyperlinked, etc. and thus increasingly irrelevant and/or inappropriate excpet for archival purposes.

    7. Again, lots of people who are providing ‘value’ (or think they are) are losing their jobs anyway. The consumer is in charge, not the provider. Travel agents provided value too – until they didn’t in our eyes anymore – then many of them went away. So did newspapers. And marketers. And publishers. And so on. Wishing it were otherwise or articulating past value doesn’t create present or future value.

    8. I think you and Bob Follmuth (comment 4 above) are right. We’ll likely need more “librarians” for elementary kids than for secondary students or adults, if simply because they’ll likely need a little more hand holding.

    9. Why is it ridiculous to ask if people / professions who fail to adapt to new realities should keep their jobs anyway? What on earth are we paying them for if they’re not relevant to the new paradigm (note: they may lose their job because the entire industry transforms/disappears, not just because we terminate them)? Yes, I for one do believe that one (but not the only) trait of highly effective teaching is the personal use and teaching of social media. If K-12 teachers don’t model it / teach it, who’s going to? Does anyone in the know think that mastery of social media isn’t an important skill these days?

    10. I agree that some of the barriers are external to school systems. More are internal, however. We see many schools and districts, all subject to the same external restraints, moving in positive directions. And we see many more that aren’t. To the extent that others are doing something differently within the same external environment, that’s a function of internal decision-making, not external decision-making, no?

  9. This is a fantastic conversation starter. I’m involved with my library school’s alumni association and I want to have a spirited discussion with these questions – brilliant and complex! I always wonder where the heck copyright and plagiarism fit into this conversation. Thanks for the list!

  10. Hi Scott,

    These are great (and scary)questions. I believe for many of us, both librarians and library-lovers, libraries have a sentimental significance that may well over-shadow hard discussions about where we are heading and our future roles. Thank YOU for asking some of these questions.

    You might be interested in this old column that I’ve been using for several years to scare a few librarians myself:


    All the best,


  11. Great questions Scott; you’ve got my mind racing.

    I wonder what Neal Postman would have said about these questions?

    Keep creating…questions worth asking,

  12. I think the last question is the most important because the answer is no. I was at a conference last year where we talked about how kids “unplug” to come to school. Instead we should be utilizing the technologies students are using at home to increase learning.

    Even with all of the technological advances, though, you cannot trade a human learning exchange (in a library or media center) for a computer. Mostly because learners are not trained to use the information available to them. Without this training, they will never be prepared to seek out information and enjoy information on their own.

  13. Just a couple of follow-up points. I hope you don’t mind me playing a black-hat roll on this thread, but the way I think about some of the issues is just different than what has been placed out here.

    “Consumers in charge” (from your point 7. The public education system is not like a business in this manner and the consumer is not in charge (thank goodness – because we would have swiss cake rolls for lunch every day). In all seriousness, those who came before us realized that a representative democracy is a proper and more highly functional structure than to simply leave everyone in charge of public education. It is for the very reason that we are debating this issue that it is a good thing that the consumer is not in charge (you and I would demand two opposing things). The consumers rarely agree on what is most necessary (just debate sports -vs- athletics sometime and you’ll see what I mean).

    I don’t think it ridiculous to ask questions, but posing the idea that “something must happen or be fired”, means that the “something” needs to be at the top of the priority list. We use our state teaching standards to identify priorities in terms of quality teaching, and none address the modeling and use of social media. I’ve not read every state’s, but none I have seen do – not to that level of specificity and they shouldn’t.

    Between two of the more prominent informing student standard bodies (ISTE and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills), neither address a standard indicating students need to be taught to use social media.

    Having said all of that, I do think it important for teachers to identify and leverage instructional technologies in a manner appropriate to advance learning goals (ie student engagement, collaboration, persuasion, debate, analysis, …). If that happens to be social media – great. If someone can do this using other methods, then great (in my mind).

    I’ll trail off with the odd timing of a referendum in a neighboring town to ours, the public just approved by a margin of 6-to-1 to build a new library in town. A little further north, another town voted to build a library but by a much less stunning margin (rarely do any spending measures get a 6-to-1 yes approval – let alone in this economy). School spending referenda are not faring so well. I am not saying anything about what this means in the context of this discussion, but it is interesting.


  14. Thanks for the insight everyone. I was waiting for this notion to be discussed, because my mother has been a librarian at a public library for about 25 years. I am a teacher, and the two of us are going to great lengths to enhance technolgoy in each of our professions. I feel that many people completely disregard the fact that technology will eventually turn libraries into information “hubs”. The classic definition of a library will be completely redifined and will no longer be characterized by books, but rather, computers, Kindle’s, and other inventions that have yet to be created. The image of a library 50 years from now, in my mind, will contain only books that are put into display cases because of their anceint/famous aspects, like Canterbury Tales and the like. As far as obtaining information, books will be obsolete in libraries 50 years from now. My goal is to make textbooks obsolete in my classroom. My mother’s goal is to sign up on Facebook. 🙂

    Thanks again all,
    J. Noel

  15. Hi Scott! I have responded to your post on my blog:

  16. Joel, if you think that the consumer is not in charge, then who are you serving? Are you meeting the needs of the teachers, the board, the administration? I clearly have to say this is the whole key to many of our issues – who is the beneficiary of our work? If you answer anything but “the students” then the focus is errant. It may be that the consumer is not as aware of the needs he/she may have, but compare that to a vet clinic, a mental institution, or a neonatal hospital that also need to have a greater understanding of who they are serving and what that may entail than the beneficiary may. By the way that doesn’t mean that each of these, including schools, don’t need to respond to the known needs and preferences of their customers too.

  17. Iowa public schools have taken two, 10% across the board cuts this fiscal year. They are likely to see another 5% ATB cut by the end of this fiscal year, and this is just the beginning. Word is that current economic conditions schools are reacting to now are only scene one, act one. What we will see play out for the 2010-2011 fiscal year likely will be a 15-17% reduction in state aid. These levels of funding reductions, for 90% of Iowa school districts (of which there are more than 360) are not absorbable through staffing reductions, cash reserve levies, and support services outsourcing. Districts will not only be staggered. Thirty plus districts could go down for the count.

    So, given this, how are we to think about and process the “10 Questions About Libraries, Librarians, and Schools”?

    (Librarian #1 and Donna and Erlene and Andrea and Bob) …Hunker down and protect our turf.

    Librarian #4)
    …Position ourselves to be an “ace” in the back pocket of a school administrator – whatever that means?

    (Davis et.al.)
    …Engage in wondering what the role of the Kindle could be in our schools. (I’m a huge Kindle fan.)

    I’m not convinced the essential question is whether we need libraries, librarians, restructured librarian roles or responsibilities, or even Kindles. Seems like the more relevant question is, “How do we provide engaging and relevant learning for students in an economically viable organizational model that prepares students to be competitive in a market place that will resemble something quite different than we believe exists today?”

    Should kids learn how to type learning home row? Should there be one superintendent per county? Will the state change collective bargaining to provide for the teacher associations to negotiate class size? Will librarians have to think differently about their role in a comprehensive public school building?

    If these are the controversial questions that define our debate today, what hope do we have of scaling up models of 21st century learning for students now? For those school districts that fail to seek to resolve the most relevant questions, there will be no tomorrow.

  18. @Marshall,

    Asking about who we ought to serve and who is the beneficiary of our work is very different (in my mind) than what Scott said about the consumer being in charge.

    I’d agree with you in principle that we ought to be about serving our students. In reality, I think we serve a whole lot of political will. I don’t mean political as in partisan politics, but political as in competing interests, influence, power, ….

    But, Scott had stated the consumer is in charge, and I disagree with that to a great extent. I don’t disagree with the fact that the consumer ought to be, but I do not think that is how the system is working now (or not working).

    My child, or me as a parent, have very little ability to influence what is taught and how it is taught (and I would consider myself and my children to be primary consumers of education). As an agent of the state (I am a district-level administrator), I have some influence on what we teach and how we teach it. This is also influenced by a board of education and state agencies. But, having been a classroom teacher, I probably had some of the most discretionary ability alter this (within some confines of standards and curriculum). But the consumers, I honestly do not believe they are in charge.

    Also, unlike in Scott’s example of private industry, people cannot as easily vote with their feet in public education. I am not saying it should be this way, but currently most people cannot afford or manage alternatives if they do not like what they receive as consumers.

    Again – I think I am drawing a distinction between who we serve (as Marshall said) and who is in charge (as Scott had asked).

  19. @ Joel
    Thanks for making the distinction, and I do agree that they are two different perspectives or approaches. Maybe where I would like to think the bridge exists is that when someone (teacher, administrator, etc.) in in CONTROL they are looking to meet the needs of those that they SERVE. In this way, those being served (consumers in this example) influence those in power by making their needs known. I appreciate your points, Joel. They have caused me to step back and re-evaluate.

    @ Jeff
    Yes – we need to figure out how we are going to continue to meet the needs of those being served in so many different arenas, not just the library topic.

  20. I agree that our elementary students need our guidance to help create a good foundation to become more independent. I also think it is extremely important for school teacher librarians to keep up with the newest technologies in order to be able to pass that knowledge on to the classroom teachers. Many elementary teachers I know are so busy the only time they have to look at any new technology is during the summer. They appreciate when someone can come to them with a plan and collaborate with them.

  21. Reply to J. Noel

    I have always thought of libraries as information “hubs”. The school library I work in now is certainly functioning as an information hub. Will the delivery of information change? Obviously. Will access to information increase exponentially? Clearly and quickly no doubt. Is it exciting? You bet. School librarians must retool for the tech so that they can continue to be the information specialists they are by definition required to be.

  22. Thanks, Bob. These were exactly my thoughts as I read the post about the future of the library and librarians. Technology can do SOOO much, but in the end it can’t replace the person who inspires a young child to read or find and suggest just the book that fits her interests.

    Also, while I agree that technology is changing the face of society, and therefore schools, students still need teachers and teacher/librarians to help negotiate their way through all that technology and information responsibly. Our students may often be way ahead of us in finding and using new social avenues of technology, but often do so without guidance. It is up to schools, teachers, and librarians to provide this guidance.

  23. 1. We will probably still call it a book because interactive hyperlinked reading thingy is way too long to remember.
    2. Students have been leaving each other notes in the margins of books for many years now. The real question is whether someone will teach and inspire them to leave better notes on the eBook reader or will more friends know about the keg party?
    3. What educational goals and objectives will we replace so that students and teachers can spend hours learning internet moviemaking skills? I am not saying it doesn’t need to be taught, but it is more time consuming than a two-page handwritten essay or a crayon drawing.
    4. What economic structure would support the purchase of eBook readers and rights to the digital content of all the print books currently held by all of the public secondary schools in the country? For smaller children the handheld eBook reader will be a reasonable solution when a broken or lost one can be replaced for under $20 and it supports quality color images.
    5. This model works for me. http://allencentre.wikispaces.com/The+Allen+Centre
    6. The librarians I know are pretty amazingly “morphable.” We can even make up words when needed. We are information facilitators. We can dish it out in any form you wish to serve it.
    7. Since I am the librarian for a PK-1st grade school, pretty much none of my job could be done remotely from India. If you have ever been in a library with 20 5- year-olds, you will find it is hard to do what you need to on both sides of the room! However, if anyone would like to remotely repair the stack of books in the back room, be my guest. Besides, I am needed for lunch duty.
    8. Yes. I am pretty certain that Amazon does not know which book Jorge’s cousin checked out last week or that “the book with the cow on the front” is Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm.
    9. Should administrators, school board members and political leaders get to keep their jobs when they overload their most technologically savvy instructional leaders with menial tasks and cut paraprofessional staff to the point librarians are reduced to clerks and a babysitters for teacher conference periods? Many school librarians want to do so much more with new technologies than the structures around them allow them to do.
    10. I think I answered that in my response to number 9. However, I have a very large imagination fed by all of those dreadful plain print children’s books that can conceive of a future which does not economically support the complete transition to electronic text and media for everyone. Maybe we shouldn’t forget how to turn the page “carefully by the top corner” quite yet.

  24. This whole discussion makes me wonder if anyone writing articles or giving presentations in the educational field has a sense of reality.

    Digital media is great, and I would love to have a completely digital library full of inviting seating where students could utilize the space for study, discussion, reading, or whatever they needed. The problem is, school districts across the US run obsolete hardware and software simply because they don’t have the money to replace computers when they reach the end of their life-cycle. Heck, we can’t even get our legislature to pay to replace print books (which still work when they’re 50 years old, by the way). So, my not-so-random question to Scott is, who’s going to pay for all these e-book readers in the first place and then pay again in three years when they no longer support the latest e-book format?

    You’ve asked some discussion-provoking questions, but I think they’re in the realm of, “what will the oil company employees do when all the cars run on hydrogen?” The day may come when digital texts are cheap, readers are cheaper, the hardware never breaks, the information never corrupts, formats remain compatible, and everything runs on solar power–it may not even be terribly far in the future when technology catches up to the reality of ubiquitous use. Even then, I don’t fear for my job.

  25. In response to #8, a librarian can certainly offer suggestions, but as an *ahem* Library Media Specialist I get better ideas from online communities than my own personal knowledge or other librarians. The bigger the mental well from which you are drawing, the more you’ll get.

  26. Librarian #4 wrote:
    While open access may soon be upon us, I know that I must help students and staff while this evolution is taking place. I know the importance of being visionary and open-minded while at the same time being grounded.

    Here’s the pushback that I always give to comments like these: Is the percentage of students and staff that need your “visionary, evolutionary help” likely to change in the future?

    My guess is that the answer is yes. I already don’t need any help from librarians to do any of the tasks that are mentioned in this piece. In fact, I’d argue that I’m probably more prepared than most of the librarians I know to introduce information fluency, management and literacy to my students.

    Won’t there be more teachers capable of this work in the future? And if so, doesn’t that mean we need fewer librarians?


  27. The Cushing Academy boarding school in Massachusetts may be the first school in the country to have its library go completely electronic. In addition to using library computers, students now check out Kindles loaded with books. How tough would it be for other schools to move to this model (and what would they gain or lose as a result)?

    With the implementation of technolgy, you have to consider a few things: whether the library has the budget to make the transition and perform ongoing maintenance for online databases. Software obsolence occurs at 18 months on average and libraries may not have the budget to implement software changes and may have to stick to physical books. Libraries and libraries must also consider user feedback in this issue, is complete digitization what users want? How many students will utilize online resources if made available to them? These issues must be taken into consideration before digitization projects begin.

  28. In regards to issue 4 regarding a school library being completely electronic. There are some negative aspects to such a library. The biggest one is missing the immediacy of seeing beautiful accompanying illustrations and photographs of images such as farms, flowers, spaceships, corn, city landscapes, people in traditional costume, and sea ships. Also, there can be something satisfying about borrowing a book to take home on one’s interests such as gardening, cooking, history of Oregon, or science fiction. There is also something nice about being able to browse through books on shelves in a library. Browsing through electronic media would not be the same adventure as browsing through book stacks. Browsing through book stacks provides an opportunity for students to find something that they might not have thought of at the time. In an electronic search, the keywords used will only be the ones that the student chooses to include. The emotional warmth of a real book seems not possible to replicate on an electronic device. A real book is free of all the complexities of electronic machinery.
    There are many benefits to an electronic library. These would include: full text searching within books, portability, and quick access. Print and electronic media both have their strengths. I think real books are somehow a part of humanity. I would like to see real books continue to be a part of libraries.

  29. Thank you for providing a reality check to this type of blather. Note in his instroduction he admits he has only recently been focusing on libraries…it shows!

  30. Wow these questions really challenge the profession! I would say that some of the questions are very valid and worth being put into action and discussion. I don’t believe that my job could be done by only a computer or from afar, I actively teach a curriculum surrounding information literacy and firmly believe that building relationships with students is important. We are however going to be using moodle to make some of those lessons more available to our students in a new fashion and hopefully ease the time constraints on our teachers. One question though, are any libraries considering the issues being posed regarding eye strain and screen time? An all Kindle Library? How would a school afford that?

  31. I think that using Kindles is a wonderful idea. Walk into any teacher store and you will see rows of books and ideas promoting “traditional” learning activities, but hop online and enter the tech world and it is amazing.

  32. I’m a library and information science student and a teacher for 15 years. Will books still be called books? Sure, in much the same way CDs are still called albums. Are librarians still necessary? That seems to be the gist of all the rest of your questions. Yes, and even more important now than in the past when there is so many avenues to pursue to find information. Too many of my students blindly accept whatever answer they find on Google first without any thought to the web source itself. Students must be taught to discern what information is accurate and what is not. In fact, schools with credential librarians (not textbook technicians or secretaries to babysit the building) have higher reading and test scores than schools who don’t. Volumes of research is out there to support that finding. In terms of technology, most librarians will embrace it when given the opportunity. I’ve gotten my best suggestions for tech in the classroom from my librarian. They are cut short by a lack of resources that are kept updated and constrained by school districts that limit web content. My district brags that it blocks thousands of websites. My students cannot access this site or any other wiki site because of it’s interactive nature, for example. The librarians are the ones screaming the loudest to bring the technology in and train the students to use it to their advantage. Does the nature of the librarian change? Yes, many librarians make themselves available via online queries or in places like Second Life all the time. I foresee that some librarians will remain in brick and mortar buildings while some become online sources for other groups. Schools for example need real people. My students ask each other about books but our librarian is out on the floor 80% of the time helping students find a book that is similar to another they loved. And as a previous writer noted, dealing with a class of students certainly requires a real time person. However, there are many librarians who work for places like Dialog that will search and find information for you for a fee. I doubt you ever meet most of those people face to face.
    Overall, I think you have hit the bulls-eye of concerns for many people. They don’t SEE librarians as necessary anymore. It is our job to show why we are more necessary than ever before. And most graduate schools are addressing that issue every day. I know mine is- and speaking of school, I best get back to work 🙂

  33. Just from a philosophical point of view, point B is really intriguing. If you could create a wikipedia like environment with real time commentary on passages would be amazing. It would be especially helpful if you could create a ranking system so that the best commentary and reviews were at the top and you didn’t just get junk reviews all the time.

    And now that I think about it, there is an electronic bible for iPhones called YouVersion that I think allows you to do just that. It’s all very cool and exciting for the future of education.

  34. Our wonderful middle school TEACHER librarian, lover of children, books, words, literature, and knowledge….great at matching authors with young and often reluctant readers …. just retired, and is to be replaced by an aide with no experience in anything school related. District administrative philosophy? One certified librarian at the high school is all that’s necessary. Middle and elementary schools will have aides (approx $17,000 year) who really don’t need any skills, whether techie or non-techie. Just checking out books, right? Whether real or e-book? Easy peasy job, right?
    Into what category does this philosophy fall?
    We teachers know the library void we face when we return to school in August.


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