Do you ever hear from teachers, administrators, parents, students, or library workers who lament the changes in the library? Do they long for the day when the library was filled with old, dusty books and silent students? If so, here is the story of why the traditional school library of the past is dead. More important, however, is the story of why the new school library will be around for a long time - and is more vital than ever to the success of our students.
In the 1900’s, basic literacy skills included reading, writing, and calculating. Knowing meant memorizing by rote, which was appropriate to the industrial age. Education was generic and based on a factory-like, "one size fits all" model. Research equated to looking something up in a reference book or occasionally the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, finding a fact or a quote, and incorporating it into a written report. Research writing meant knowing how to parrot facts and quotes appropriately and formatting the dreaded bibliography on your typewriter.
Librarians during the past century were all about collecting, organizing, and preserving materials for research. We also provided access to those resources for our researchers, but our big job was basic curation, control, and oversight of these collections. This was a largely unchanging process for nearly 3,000 years. We taught students how to find where information resided in these books, but not about what to do with it once they found it. We instructed students on understanding the difference between fact and opinion - but to always rely on the credibility of the print resources in our libraries as the de facto standard.
And then…. the Internet happened! Around twenty years ago, we began adding computers with Internet connections into our library spaces. We taught our students and teachers how to use email to send messages and HotBot to find facts. We learned how to cite something on the Internet alongside our students. Research writing meant typing facts and quotes now using Microsoft Word instead of a typewriter. Access tools started to change, but the methodologies were largely intact.
And then in the last decade, as the Internet has grown exponentially with user generated content, more profound changes have manifested. Wifi has become ubiquitous and we have devices available in our pockets, in our classrooms, at Starbucks, and on the playground. Somehow, the information we can find on the Internet is sometimes better than what we have in our library. It is certainly more current (or on par with) the most updated print resources available to us. Today, the library and the web intersect - and provide multiple ways to get the same information. Research includes not just simple book quotes, but integrating complex multi-media rich sources. Sources that can change reading levels with a simple click are used daily in research. Research now is finding, evaluating, and then listening, viewing, reading and analyzing information. Researchers can use their mobile device to not only read books and search the Internet, but now they can chat with friends, interview experts, and automatically generate citations all while listening to music. Research writing is about preparing students for college and career. Basic literacy skills now include critical thinking and the ability to solve complex problems. Knowing today means taking information and using it to answer questions or solve problems.
Let’s face the truth : students do not need a school library to do research anymore.