I read this twice and am not really sure what my reaction is. Let’s see what you think:
Witness to the decline of books
A librarian sees readers check out
— Houston Chronicle
I’m a librarian in an independent school in the Washington, D.C., area. We’re doing all the right things. Our class sizes are small. Most graduating seniors gain admission to their college of choice. The facilities are first-rate.
Yet from my vantage point at the reference desk, something is amiss. The books in the library stacks are gathering dust.
When I started in this profession five years ago — I used to teach English — I presumed that librarians were mostly united in their attraction to books. But as I moved along in my library science program, I found that books weren’t really our focus. Information management, database networking and research tools claimed the largest share of the curriculum.
In other words, literacy today is defined less by how English departments or a librarian might teach Wordsworth or Faulkner than by how we find our way through the digital forest of information overload.
Typically, many people in my line of work no longer have the title of librarian. They are called media and information specialists, or sometimes librarian technologists.
The buzzword in the trade is “information literacy,” a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books. These days, librarians measure the quality of returns in data-mining stints. We teach students how to maximize a database search, about successful retrieval rates. What usually gets lost in the scramble is a careful reading of the material.
A library’s neglected shelves reveal the demise of something important, especially for young readers starved for meaning — for anything profound.
Still, I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I’m turning the new-arrivals shelf into a main attraction in my school’s library. Recently I stood Charles Dickens’ Bleak House next to the DVD version produced by the BBC. Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) graced both covers. A senior fingered the DVD for a minute, then turned it over to read the blurb. “The book is too long,” she said. “Is the movie any better?”
“You’re right. The book is long,” I said. “But once you start this one, you won’t be able to put it down, right from that first page about the London fog.”
“I think I’ll watch the DVD,” the student said.
And in my library ledger, I’ll register this as a sale.