Tuesday, 8 February 2011

School Libraries RIP? The debate continues . . . .

In my previous blogpost ["School Libraries RIP? The debate begins . . . . "], I dared to raise the question of whether or not school libraries need to have books. Little did I realise that even opening up such a debate would elicit such a rear-guard action from librarians – their comments [and abuse!] are published below for all to read. I was somewhat taken aback that such a literate group as librarians should not pick up on the nuance of the argument.

First, my argument related to whether or not schools need to continue to dedicate resources [money and space] to having books in their library. For the record, I think that we all agree that we want pupils to be able to access quality information and books - these are important tools for learning.
The questions we face are:
  1. Do schools need to provide a lending facility?
  2. Do books and information need to be in a printed format?
The response to my argument was what Nicholas Negroponte would no doubt describe as a confusion between “atoms” and “bytes” [see Being Digital, MIT 1995, pp. 11-13] . Just because a library doesn’t have physical books [atoms] does not mean that the pupils in there don’t have access to the information/ narratives etc [bytes].

As Eli Neiburger argued in his insightful presentation to the LJ/SLJ eBook Summit [See the YouTube clip – "Libraries are Screwed" part two], in a world where pupils have excellent connectivity and can download any book at any time, there is no value having a “local copy”. Most of us can accept that there is little point owning the DVD if we can we stream and watch any movie on demand; I see no difference with being able to download and read any book on demand. I accept that we might not yet be at a point where this is the case, but with Google’s mission statement to digitise the world’s information, it is just round the corner. It would be na├»ve to ignore this development and not to discuss its impact on schools and their libraries. To answer my own questions, I can see the day when independent secondary schools no longer provide a lending facility and that pupils will access information and books from the Internet. Over time, mostly likely this will be via their own devices in digital format.

Secondly, at no point did I, nor would I, argue that we don’t need librarians. [It’s OK guys – your jobs are safe!] My article was not an attack on librarians. For those of you out there who have jumped to all sorts of erroneous assumptions about my school librarians here at Berkhamsted, they are an excellent team who are very forward-thinking, adaptable and innovative in their approach. They do what all good librarians should do: they support learning, guide and promote reading and teach research skills. The law of the Internet age is that if you are going to be a middle-man, you have to add value. Teachers and librarians both do this by inspiring young people, teaching skills, promoting understanding and helping them to access relevant information.

So let’s take this debate further forward.
My school is just about to give each pupil a photocopying/ printing allowance for each term so that they can use school “multi-functional devices” [scanner/printer/photocopiers] to support their teaching and learning. Rather than purchasing books for the library [which we need to catalogue, monitor and store] why not give each pupil a termly Amazon voucher to spend on books [in atom or byte format] to support their teaching and learning? The only catch would be that they would have to write a review of the book they read for the School Library blog.


  1. The main problem with giving pupils an amazon voucher and telling them to buy the library stock themselves is that a Library with 300 copies of Robert Muchamore, 300 copies of Twilight and 300 copies of Why is Snot Green? (Glen Murphy. MacMillan) is not useful to anyone.
    Librarians are a little jittery at the moment in all sectors because Libraries are under real attack. You’ll have to excuse our reactive comments. It’s the nature of social networking.

  2. Yvette. Thanks for this. The suggestion was that they would use the Amazon voucher and that it would be their book. There would be no library stock. I am questioning whether school libraries [in independent schools] need to perform a lending function.

  3. Choice. Educated Choice. Inspired Choice. Poor choice, un-informed choice.
    Budget. Sharing resources. Recycling.
    Availability. The limits of contemporary publishing. Diversity of supply.Politics of supply.
    Immediacy and timeliness and reliability.
    Information Overload. Too much to choose from.
    Information poverty. Poor information.
    Human intervention.Communication. Speaking and listening skills.Recommendations. Surprises. The limits of only ever finding exactly what we are looking for. The limits of our vision.

  4. Once again, I'm amazed at the lack of understanding and the limited financial acumen. So - each child buys a copy of 1984 for example, because they need to read it for a class. That comes out of their Amazon allowance. Next year, the following class also has to do the same thing. And so on. How does this make financial sense, when it's more logical to buy enough copies to support the course once, and then have those same books available for the year after and so on?

    What about those resources that a child needs to access once? Are you seriously expecting them to spend their allowance on a book they'll want for only a few minutes? And before you trot out the 'Oh, if that's all they need they can get it via Google' that's not always possible. And quite what your understanding of the Google digitisation project is I have no idea, because it's not really doing what you think it's doing. Ask your librarian for more information, since you're lacking it a bit there.

    I do agree that in time digital devices will be widely used - but it's not yet. They have not reached that point. I have and use both a Kindle and iPad and we're not nearly able to do what you suggest. Even when we can, are you seriously suggesting that it's sensible to have children carrying around expensive devices that are going to make them even more the target of thieves than they are already?

    Finally, I'm glad that you have acknowledged the value of your librarian and library staff. Better late than never I suppose.

    And if you *continue* to decide to anonymous responses I'd better add that I'm Phil Bradley. Just so that we're clear.

  5. Phil,
    I think that we are going to have to agree that we are working in and discussing very different schools. I accept that I have little understanding of your context - you clearly have very little understanding of mine. I openly write discussing matters that impact on the Independent Sector and would not presume to write about contexts which I do not know well.

    It is the norm in Independent Schools to provide all books for curriculum work in English and they hold their own stock of books for this purpose in the way in which you suggest.

    I do think that giving pupils the opportunity and incentive to purchase a book will encourage them to read it.

    As far as the digitisation of books is concerned, you can run but you can't hide - digitisation is coming and the sooner that we engage in a serious debate about the consequences of that the better.

    [I published your last comment in the spirit of debate, but anonymised because I considered it abusive and felt that it was better all round not to put your name to it]


  6. OK - digitisation is coming, providing more choice for readers, wonderful. Here's the thing - as an academic librarian, I am responsible for purchasing library stock for our students. I am all for purchasing appropriate e-books for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being remote access. Fantastic. The problems arise when a pubisher decides not to make them available to libraries, only to personal users. Money is a factor. Sometimes publishers decide to provide e-versions of their textbooks...but then they make them prohibitively expensive. For example one particular publisher sells a print copy for £16, the Kindle copy is £16 (why??), but the library e-copy is £260.

    Your arguments may apply for popular fiction and wealthy kids, but not books for study, those unable to access/use e-readers or those on lower incomes or student loans. We need to look at the bigger picture here.

  7. in answer to your key questions

    1) yes, libraries need to lend, to provide variety (different interests and abilities), reduce waster, allow for discovering new stuff without having to spend money. sharing vs paying? it's simple really

    2) no, but libraries can also lend and give access to digital formats. at the moment most students prefer print fiction but there is a small shift starting. i do think the non-fiction book has had it's day and our focus now is on databases and ebooks.

  8. Hello Mark

    I'd love to debate this further. Did you get a chance to read my blog post? I spent a long time considering my reply and raised some pertinent arguments to support school libraries lending in the mid-term future which I don't believe you have addressed here. http://nicolamcnee.edublogs.org/
    Perhaps if you came to visit our library you would see the "vision" for a mixed book and digital resources future that we have in our school. You are very welcome :)

  9. Purchase 'a book'. It might help if you clarified exactly how much you expect this Amazon voucher to be worth, and how many books you expect a child to purchase. I really don't see why you're emphasising the continued possession of books - surely it's more economical for all concerned to read a book, then make it available to others to read.. rather like a library in fact.

    I can also assure you that I have absolutely no problem with digitisation - the sooner I can get all of my books on my Kindle or iPad the happier I shall be. However, that isn't yet possible, nor will it for some time.

    If I had wanted to remain anonymous I could easily have done so; your patronising attitude isn't appreciated.

  10. Like Nicola, above, I tried to address some of the issues in your previous post at:


    I am glad to see that you have written about your library staff in this post. I do think, however, that you have somehow missed the nuances of what libraries and librarians are about.

    I am also somewhat surprised that, as a leading light in ICT, you did not realise that a public post and tweets about this issue would result in a lot of response from librarians. We are the information professionals, after all!

  11. I was very disheartened to hear that the lower sixth students at Berkhamsted said that they didn't borrow books from the school library and that there are plans to redirect the money to scanning/photocopying and for each student to purchase books from Amazon. I agree with the objections that have already been raised in these blogs so will not repeat.
    What I must say is that I was librarian at Berkhamsted School for nine years (left three years ago) and the majority of students used the library with great enthusiasm for numerous history, geography, science, RS, english and other subject based projects. I have no reason to believe it is any different now (although I am not currently directly in touch with the school). I wonder in fact how the staff feel about this proposal, when I was there it was the staff who were so enthusistic about the value of a lending library and very committed to encouraging their students to read beyond the curiculum by using the fantastically rich resources in the library. I personally cannot understand how this can have changed in three year period.

  12. Sarah
    I am grateful for your insights into the financials of digital purchasing, which summarise the present state of affairs. However, there will be change in time:

    Kindles et al may have a certain techno-novelty at present and people are thus willing to pay a premium for e-Books, but in time consumers will be more discerning and the cost of digital copies is bound to come down [no printing, paper, shipping and storage costs].

    Your point about fiction v. study texts is well made. However, I believe that the future of schooling is in interactive text books rather e-Book versions of "static" text books. See AQA's GCSE e-assessment exemplars for the sort of thing that will be happening https://aqa.secureassess.co.uk/exemplar/

  13. Please see my reply to the continued debate and a completely unscripted "animoto" of what happened at break time this morning in our Independent School Library http://nicolamcnee.edublogs.org/2011/02/10/school-libraries-rip-the-debate-continues/