School libraries are changing, but some essential characteristics remain the same
Technology might make some parts of libraries obsolete–but librarians won’t be among them, panelists contended at the annual Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio, which drew 7,200 attendees.
As the popularity of electronic books continues to rise, schools are emerging as a dynamic area of how libraries adjust, they said.
Educators and administrators, struggling to figure out how much to spend on their campus libraries amid state funding cuts, have reduced library staff and pondered the potential savings of buying digital books over printed ones. But concerns that students will increasingly be left with a self-service method of accessing books and research materials stem from the realization that today’s students are more tech-savvy than their predecessors.
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Printed or digital, the focus should be on the best way to provide students access to quality materials that will bolster their education, a trio of panelists from Houston Independent School District, ITT Technical Institute in Austin and Bexar County’s own BiblioTech library agreed in a discussion Thursday afternoon.
BiblioTech continues to generate international attention as one of the first libraries to go all digital, with no titles in traditional print media, and has been pushing partnerships with local schools to keep students interested in reading.
One key approach librarians can use to reinforce why they are relevant is a renewed focus on personal interaction with readers and learners, said Elizabeth Philippi, who oversees Houston ISD’s massive school library system, which is shifting more of its resources online.
She said librarians can provide a highly customized and productive level of customer service that a digital device is incapable of. Librarians should not fear technology but embrace it as a tool–instead of re-shelving and categorizing books, they can spend more time providing one-on-one instruction with visitors, helping them find materials, Philippi said.
Bookless libraries pose their own challenges, though. In some communities, a more tech-savvy setup must factor in the time needed to teach people how to use digital devices if they haven’t had to access them previously.
Digital devices can get broken or stolen. And as BiblioTech’s head librarian Ashley Eklof noted, some places in the United States still don’t have access to the Internet or families can’t afford to get the service at home.
Even the design of new libraries, centered around a focus on customer service and the use of the space as a learning center instead of a room of books, poses new challenges, Philippi said. New libraries tend to favor more open areas for groups to gather for project-based learning, she said.
That makes some administrators uneasy — it’s harder to monitor students to make sure they aren’t goofing off, or, in some cases at the high school level, engaging in sexual activity, Philippi noted. She wasn’t joking.
“Do I see a bookless library at our high school level someday?” she asked. “Yes. But I assure you from what we’ve seen with ‘Twlight’ in recent years, some students will always want a printed book and so we just have to be providing both formats.”
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