Earlier this month, there was a debate over at the NY Times Room for Debate blog about whether school libraries should have print books or not. For me, the library of the present and the future is not bound with print books. Print books are important and valuable but I think it is reasonable to say that it is on the decline as a communications medium. On some viseral level, this strikes me as sad and misguided. I would find myself nodding as I read Nicholas Carr‘s argument that, “The pages of a book shield us from the distractions that bombard us during most of our waking hours. As an informational medium, the book focuses our attention, encouraging the kind of immersion in a story or an argument that promotes deep comprehension and deep learning.” I wonder how that compares to reading manuscript books from centuries ago? The kind of books that could take months or more to produce by hand? Likewise, my studies in book history have incline me to agree with William Powers who argues that we tend to overestimate the speed of technological shifts
Debating whether or not libraries should continue to focus on print books is ultimately about a deeper debate; what are school libraries for? The rationale behind Carr’s and Power’s arguments for books seems to be about encouraging thoughtful and reflective reading practices. You might say that books are a means to other ends: developing skills and acquiring knowledge. As librarians continue to evaluate new technologies and consider how to balance our collections development between print books, databases, DVDs, audiobooks and other resources, reflecting on our ultimate goals is worthwhile. If Carr and Powers are right about digital technology being opposed to deep reading and thoughtfulness, I wonder if there are other ways librarians and libraries can foster that experience? An elementary school I attended used to periodically observe USSR time (i.e. United Silent Sustained Reading), a practice that was quite helpful in helping children to focus.
If libraries continue to move away from books, how does that affect our mission and goals?