Who Needs a Library Anyway?

Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized | 20 comments

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at an Illinois school, and was excited to attend…until I entered their library.

The walls were bare. The shelves were mostly empty, and what titles existed were relics with dust on them. I tried not to show my frustration to the librarian who had so kindly greeted us. But it confused me. How could she be so welcoming in such an unwelcoming space?

I did the presentation for an awesome group of students, though they clearly had no familiarity with my book, or for that matter, no familiarity with most of the titles I had discussed. Of course they didn’t, I thought to myself. This library was depressing and offered almost no reason for students to enter.

Then I learned how wrong I had been.

The librarian wasn’t a librarian. In fact, there was no librarian at this school.

Bureaucrats had closed the library a few years earlier, claiming funds and resources could be used better elsewhere, such as in student testing. Besides, they argued, if students really wanted books, they had a city library.

The result? Book clubs disappeared, author visits, once a regularity, went extinct. Most importantly, literacy test scores plummeted, as did student writing, both fiction and non-fiction. And the funding that went into student testing did nothing to improve grades.

Finally, the parents had enough. They were bypassing the bureaucrats and using their own resources to bring the library back. The woman I had mistaken for the librarian was one of several parent volunteers who had seen the massive mistake of removing the library and were trying to fix it for their school.

I have traveled all over the country, and by now, stepped into a great many libraries, staffed with amazing librarians, librarian assistants, and parent volunteers.

Here’s what I’ve learned: a well run school library is the heart of the school, and the center of education. It’s a gathering place for researchers, readers, and sometimes, for students who don’t fit as easily into other places. Even for students who never step a foot into the library, there is value in walking past it each day, in knowing they are part of a school that values books. A great school library will bind students together in academic clubs, serve as a showcase place for school projects, develop tomorrow’s writers, unleash imaginations, open researchers to possibilities beyond Wikipedia, and focus a school on literacy.

So why am I writing this now?

Because in Park City, Utah, not far from my home, the decision has been made to get rid of their books and give the library’s space to a vocational education program (let me pause here while you gasp. I know, I did too). Books will still be available, but only in ebook form, located…well, somewhere in the school.

A group of incoming sophomores have proposed using the space concurrently, but still to no avail. They acknowledge the value of vocational training, but wonder why it must come at the expense of a school’s library. They are circulating a petition here, which I’d love for you to sign, even if you are outside the school boundaries. Even Neil Gaiman got in on it!

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To bureaucrats who are looking for more space or more budget, ask your teachers where they can find it.

I bet I know what they’ll say.

Enough already with the testing.

20 Comments

  1. What’s both sad and scary about this is that if getting rid of school libraries becomes a trend, city libraries might also be at risk, especially with eBooks.

  2. WHAT I-I NO WE HAVE TO STOP THIS WHERE DO I SIGHN

  3. No, that is unacceptable. That is completely unacceptable. Books are the gateway to imagination and creativity. And I agree, ENOUGH WITH THE TESTING!

  4. As a school teacher myself, it can be extremely difficult to watch this happen and know we have little to no say in the actual process. I am just extremely grateful we still have our library, and keep my fingers crossed that it will be here for years to come. Kids love library and exploring new books. We CAN’T take that away from them.

  5. Wow. I had no idea about Park City’s school library. There are a ton of studies out there that show that libraries are essential for well-balanced, literate schools. It’s awful to see them sacrificed in a time where children need to be exposed everything books can offer them.

    • I completely agree about the studies on the benefits of libraries. I hope they’ll change their minds.

  6. I’m doing project on your books and need to know how old you are

  7. SIGNED!!!

  8. That was a very sad news Miss Jen and I agreed with your statement. I think the one that causes it is because our continuous improvement for technology. For example, children (I’am not generalizing all of the kids) nowadays wants instant information when doing research works. That’s why they prefer to surf the internet rather than reading books in a library. And also they prefer playing games through their gadgets rather than reading a good book for past time.

    The website for the petition wasn’t loading for me Miss Jen. I also want to sign the petition…

    • I suspect the petition has been taken down, either because it timed out or because eh school board has agreed to reconsider. I’ll have to look into it… But thank ou!

      • The link to the website was now ok. I already signed the petition Miss Jen.

  9. Ya know, I like writing myself. (I’ve mainly written scripts. I’ve never completed a book.)
    I once had an idea of a story set a few years in the future, where, in America, books are starting to be banned because they incite creativity or thinking, even to the point where libraries are banned. The main character has read or heard of these books and believes that they should be available to the public, so they set up a secret library. The catchphrase of the story was “Be quiet, this is a library.”

    After seeing these situations, I really want to write it now. (Conspiracy theory, much?)

    • It’d be an awesome story, Meg. I hope you do decide to write it!

  10. I’m in my school library almost every day. If someone tried to take it away i swear i would get so mad I’d march right into the superintendent’s office and demand to have my books back.
    (Then i’d get really upset and burst into tears. I’m a book person!)

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