Here is an English paper I wrote this year focusing on the importance of libraries. I wrote this because I was inspired by the total lack of a decent library in my school. My teacher agreed that “our library is a place where books go to die.” I believe libraries are an indispensable asset to a high school, and this is why…
High School Libraries: Educational Necessities
Supplying high school libraries with a diverse collection of books and technology is essential to developing both the intellectual and creative skill sets of students. Books encourage creativity and understanding of the world around us, and they are more conducive to concentration than other mediums, such as reading digitally. However, it is equally important that libraries supply students and teachers with the technology necessary for thorough research.
Independent – or pleasure – reading is an indispensable asset. Reading can serve so many purposes. Robert M. Hutchins, an educational philosopher and the dean of Yale Law School, asserted that, “…books are the means of understanding our society and ourselves. They contain the great ideas that dominate us without our knowing it. There is no comparable repository in our tradition.” As Hutchins said, reading books gives people, in this case, students, a deeper understanding of the world around them. This learning often happens unconsciously through the reading of either nonfiction or fiction. By exposing a child to the world of a book, the characters of the book, and the ways they function, the child begins to understand our world and our people. In fact, the National Endowment of the Arts has published a statistic that tells us that 43% of literary readers perform volunteer and charity work, while only 17% of non-literary readers do. Readers are motivated to perform such work because they, through books, have nurtured a connection to the world and its people. A well-stocked library provides ample opportunities for the natural learning that breeds that attitude. It is essential that high school libraries provide a variety of books to ensure that there is something for everyone, as research has shown that reading as a pastime becomes more popular in the 11th and 12th grades. Francine Prose, in her article “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read,” said, “High school – even more than college – is where literary tastes and allegiances are formed; what we read in adolescence is imprinted on our brains as the dreamy notions of childhood crystallize into hard data.” The years a student spends in high school determine their reading habits for years to come.
Reading also promotes learning in other academic areas. By focusing on the page and the story being told, the reader’s attention span expands, while also deepening comprehension. Reading books for pleasure broadens a student’s vocabulary and strengthens their ability to understand the workings of grammar, thereby aiding them in writing and in reading books assigned to them in school, such as textbooks. Hutchins has said something similar, “Great books teach people not only how to read them, but how to read other books as well.”
It may be argued that many of these things can be taught in the classroom, and that personal reading can easily happen outside of schools with the help of bookstores, the internet, and public libraries. However, efficiency is a highly valued quality in America. If schools would ensure that the library accessible to students, simple to use, and that its presence in the school is noticeable, students would be more likely to take advantage of its services.
It is true that libraries can function without librarians, and doing so might seem wise during times of economic stress. However, librarians are almost as important as the libraries themselves. They are teachers just like any other. In fact, a majority of them have responsibilities outside those we typically attribute to them. Liz Gray, a former English teacher and the current library director at Dana Hall School, a girls’ boarding and day school in Massachusetts, claimed that “One of [her] primary responsibilities as a librarian is to teach information literacy skills – defining research questions, selecting and evaluating sources, avoiding plagiarism, documenting sources – and in [her] experience this works best face to face with students.” This face to face time between librarian and student has the potential to strengthen the students’ ability to attain and organize research, a skill that will undoubtedly benefit them in the future. Librarians keep tabs on the needs of the students and teachers of the school. By giving librarians sufficient funds, schools are also giving them the means to buy the books and tools that complement the curriculum. In my experience, the librarian has been a friend. They listen to what students have to say about specific books or series, and they work to serve the students by stocking the library with the books they know the kids like to read.
As mentioned earlier, the role of the librarian has stretched to include technology. The purpose of the library as a whole has changed over the past decade. Research is mostly conducted online, as it is fast and often more up-to-date than books published years ago. It is essential that libraries have technology that is up-to-date and ready to meet the requirements of the curriculum. It cannot be argued that technology will not play a key role in the lives of today’s students. They must learn how to use it effectively in order to succeed in the many fields that are becoming more and more dependent on technology. Libraries are frequently the place chosen to house computer labs and other electronics, but they are often not able to be accessed by students. This is a major drawback. Computers are portals to information, and most students prefer to do research for school through the internet. If libraries had a more extensive collection of technologies and a greater number of computers, students would be drawn to them when working on assignments. What more could be asked for than a quiet, studious environment stocked with all the necessary tools?
Books, though not necessarily ideal for up-to-date or efficient research, are unarguably important. Sherman Alexie wrote in his article, “Superman and Me,” that, when talking as a guest teacher at schools, he tells the students simply, “’Books,’ I say to them. ‘Books.’” Books hold answers to questions about culture, life, science, love, religion, and the many other topics that dominate the world. They have been pored over repeatedly before being put on the market, and therefore, books are probably more accurate than some online sources. By reading books for their school classes, students learn how to read analytically and how to comprehend what they read. These skills are crucial to succeeding in a wide range of classes because of the reliance on textbooks, which a student must be able to read and understand.
It is necessary that high schools strike a balance between technology and books. William Powers, the author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, has said, “The idea that books are outdated is based on a common misconception: the belief that new technologies automatically render existing ones obsolete, as the automobile did with the buggy whip. However, this isn’t always the case. Old technologies often handily survive the introduction of new ones, and sometimes become useful in entirely new ways.” He also observed that “What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths.” The internet is full of distractions, while a book is focused on the topic at hand. So, while technology is a great tool for research, books promote concentration. A library that serves both of these needs is one that has the best interests of students at its heart.
Certainly, books, computers, and other electronics are expensive, and that the money used to buy them could be invested in other things. However, books and technologies have benefits that are worth the cost. They provide students with the means to thoroughly research topics for school and investigate questions of their own. Schools could lessen the impact on their budgets by creating a system of circulation between the libraries, as public libraries do. There is also a possibility that donations could help fund a library. There are many means by which libraries could receive the funding they are in need of, if someone would be willing to take on the job.
A common concern I’ve come across is that students will not use the library, even if it is well-stocked and has the technologies they need. There are ways to make a library appealing, and school libraries simply need to put them into action. Comfortable seating, a sense of casualness, and a modern environment would help to abolish the idea that libraries are “uncool” or only for “nerds.” Libraries could also provide devices for listening to music for students who are studying or reading quietly. To draw students to the library after school, they could give out after school snacks, have study sessions for certain classes, or even host author events, which many authors are willing to participate in. Author events would serve as an incentive for students to come to the library for reasons beyond the academic.
High school libraries in particular, as the academics in high school are more demanding than those in elementary and middle schools, have the potential to be one of the most valuable assets of the school. In order to reach this potential, they must be nurtured and cared for until they can provide students with the environment, tools, and help they need. By hiring adept librarians, purchasing a sufficient number of computers, and stocking the library with the books needed to satisfy the curriculum as well as the pleasure reading of the students, libraries can serve both the teachers and the students in ways that no other part of the school can. There are certainly issues to be dealt with, such as budgetary ones, but they can be overcome if there is a librarian who is willing to do their job well, such as Liz Gray. Libraries promote comprehension, studiousness, and the pleasure reading that can aid students with their classes as well as entertain them. Hutchins suggested that, “To put an end to the spirit of inquiry that has characterized the West it is not necessary to burn the books. All we have to do is leave them unread for a few generations.”
Let us provide libraries with the librarians to nurture them, as well as the budgets necessary to support them, and we can encourage that “spirit of inquiry” and train students for the challenges of college and their careers. Books are, as Hutchins said, “the means of understanding our society and ourselves.”
Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 110-12. Print.
Bradshaw, Tom and Bonnie Nichols. “Participation in Cultural and Social Activities.” The Language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 147-48. Print.
Gray, Liz. “21st Century Librarians.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Jamie. “10 Ways Reading the Great Books Can Improve Your Life.” The Self Made Scholar. N.p. 4 Mar. 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Powers, William. “A Place to Learn.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Prose, Francine. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read.” The Language of Composition. Ed. Renee H. Shea. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 89-99. Print.