In Defense of School Libraries

Okay. So.

For those of you who don’t already know, I am working as an editorial assistant at the Livingston newspaper, the West Essex Tribune. My major responsibility is proofreading all of the stories, PR, letters, and captions that are placed in the paper.

On Tuesday, we received a letter to the editor in regards to the ongoing debate about the Livingston Public School district. Long story short, the town is debating whether or not the school system should make the elementary schools bigger and/or implement special education courses (currently, 130-something special needs students are being sent out of district to meet their educational needs — this is another issue entirely). Needless to say, this is an ongoing story that makes its way into our paper every week and will continue to do so until well after the vote on March 12.

The letters to the editor often consist of many good points from both sides of the argument. However, today a letter came through that actually infuriated me. Two residents of the town and mothers of Livingston students wrote in to discuss what they believe the school board should do about assessing the current states of the elementary schools. In their letter, they included the following sentence:

“Why should money be allocated to build new libraries — are libraries still necessary in this technological age?

They went on to say, “The libraries most of us remember from our childhoods are things of the past. Unfortunately, three of our elementary schools still contain these relics.”

While this is true — libraries have undergone many changes as time has gone by — I can’t help feeling offended by the ladies’ comments. Schools should have libraries that meet the needs of the children, and while I don’t know the exact state of the Livingston elementary school libraries, I can’t stress enough the importance of libraries — both traditional and modern — within schools.

When I was in elementary school, I always looked forward to “library time.” The library always seemed huge and vast to me — though that could have been because I was a fairly small child — and I loved going and picking out a new book each week to open up a new world. Our library had a few computers up against the window, but for us, computer time was reserved for our computers class. The library was for reading (and occasionally watching movies), but it was also for quiet time. It was an escape from the classroom, with thousands of possibilities.

I remember learning how to do very minor research papers in fifth grade. I recall pulling some “research” books (the Guiness book being one) off the shelves, carrying them over to a table, and handwriting a paper using facts from those books. We’ve come a long way since 2001; my college research papers were much more in-depth, often pulling facts from online databases along with books. But while the method of researching has changed, books are still extremely important and relevant in 2013.

The women who wrote the letter mentioned the technological age, and I will not disregard that. Yes, technology is taking over. But why should that render a library obsolete? Instead of letting computers and databases take over books, we should instead be trying to balance books and technology. I am an avid reader, and I read fairly equal amounts of print books and Kindle books. I have and use a Kindle solely because if I didn’t, I would not have enough space for all of the books I own.

I will also admit that I have shirked on using libraries for taking out books (I did use it for studying and research) — in my four years at Lock Haven, I was so caught up in my schoolwork that I did not often had time to read for fun, and when I did, I read books that I already owned. However, I also just got a library card for the Livingston Library and plan to use it.

When I think of the layout of a school, the first thing I think of (aside from classrooms) is the library. I couldn’t imagine a school without a library full of books. By replacing books with computers and other technologies, what are we really doing to children?

I am not a parent, nor am I going to try to pretend I know how a parent feels. But I personally feel that, when I am a parent, I will want my children to have access to as many books as possible. I will want them to read, as I did, whenever they feel compelled to. I want them to have the same chances I did (and do) to open a book and be transported to a new world. There is nothing like the feeling of reading a book — print or e-book — and falling in love with it.

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