Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Is a High School Library without Books Still a Library?

Benilde-St. Margaret's

Speaking of boneheads (see the B&N CEO interview video posted just below this one), I just heard about the principal of a Minnesota Catholic high school who has taken it upon herself (in 2011) to get rid of all the books in the school library because she believes that students learn better without them.  She's gone digital, results be damned.  Give away the books and hope for the best.  What could go wrong?

According to The Digital Shift (Library Journal) which seems to be all for Principal Sue Skinner:
That sound you hear is the appreciative roar of thousands of school librarians across the country cheering Skinner on as she helps move the school not just into the digital era, but into a partnership role with its library to boost student learning, no matter the pathway that kids take.
Also from the linked article:
Another key to the library’s success? A robust community of neighboring branch and university libraries in the surrounding area. There are 50 public libraries alone in a 15-mile radius of the school, Skinner points out. “We weren’t saying no to hard copy books,” she says. “But let’s not duplicate what public and other libraries have.” The school’s librarian as well as teachers help students to complete requests online for the books they need and want from all of these local branches.
Today, the library is nearly devoid of books save for a few reference titles and any books that students bring in themselves, Skinner says. She notes, however, that the library still is a work in progress. While it contains some tables and chairs where students can work alone or in groups, Skinner hopes for even more resources. On her wish list? An interactive white board, a big monitor where students “can throw up things on a screen” as they work collaboratively, and even more power stations—although she’s “not convinced” yet that a coffee shop, a popular request from students, is needed. 

Dr. Sue Skinner
So, Ms. Skinner has converted the high school library into a cross between a high school cafeteria and maybe, if the kids get their way, a Starbucks caffeine outlet where everyone can bring their new school-issued macbooks to hang out with their friends.  Hey, why not?  There are other libraries in the area that will just love serving these kids who no longer have a school library of their own.  We can always dump our students on those sticks-in-the-mud.

Note, too, that the actual school librarian is "retiring" after 20 years service to this Catholic prep school and Ms. Skinner is going to be "picky" about who she hires to fill the vacancy.  Is there something going on between the lines here?  Sounds like Skinner wants someone who thinks exactly the way she thinks on this issue, and nothing else will be accepted.



  1. This is completely idiotic. Maybe after she retires they can bring the books back!

  2. Wow, that's a drastic move, and I'm sure those public libraries must *love* being that school's crutch. Then again, so many school libraries are so pathetic that a lot of public libraries are already serving as backups for them. I know when I was growing up, my primary library for research and recreation was not my school library, but rather my local public library. Which is probably why most of what I learned about doing research, I learned during college.

    Yes, there are benefits to this school's decision, but there are also so many possible drawbacks I could write for ages on the subject. I somehow doubt they'll be much better than the average school library with physical materials in it, but they'll look a lot slicker (depending on how up-to-date they keep any electronics they might have) and be even more dependent upon vendor price increases, publisher hostility towards libraries, and Internet outages. Wonderful.

    Talking to administrative types who've been blinded by hype can be like smacking against a brick wall, though, and it sounds like this principal has been thoroughly blinded. That happens a lot, unfortunately.

  3. Kathleen, according to the full article, some of the books ended up in places like Africa. No putting this genie back in the bottle, I'm afraid.

  4. Library Girl, it's good to hear directly from a librarian on something like this. I think it's all about being on "the cutting edge," and keeping those checks from all those parents coming to the school. I think the decision is a ludicrous one - and that's being charitable.