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Friday, March 12, 2010

What's a Library For? Everything and Everybody

Dave Wee and the other Middle School librarians spent a lot of time with me, for which I am very grateful. So, for that matter did most of the folks at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. People want to talk about this issue of moving authoritative educational materials from print to the Cloud -- a lot. Many aspects of teaching stay the same from year to year, so a change like this is exciting.

In libraries everywhere, reference works are being stored online; however, as Craig Mod has shown so well in his blog post, Books in the Age of the iPad, there are some "defined-content" books that cannot be poured into a Kindle or a laptop, might be able to be poured into an iPad, but work great in print, that are going to stay on library shelves. Here is a friend's beautiful Italian cook book:


Notice how some of the images even spill over the border of the page. It just won't fly on a Kindle. Nor will I be purchasing any classical text in digital form for a long time. These books stay on the shelf.

But the question of what happens to the books is less important than the question, What happens to the whole concept of the library? I say, Nothing. Alarmed? Don't be. A school, at bottom, is little more than ideas and people coming together in a place. Libraries will always play an important role in making that happen. There has to be a place to go to get iPods, Kindles, portable computers, and -- yes -- books. It's the school's tool shed. Kids need tools to get at the ideas. And they need help with those tools -- from librarians.

One last, amusing story about Dave Wee and the other kind librarians at Harvard-Westlake. While we were chatting in the large office/work-space in the back, I mentioned the importance of laminators to our own Lower School teachers at Episcopal. Dave's eyes lit up and he declared proudly, "oh yes, our laminator is right there!" The others chimed in their approval. "And beside it is a 'posterizer', which takes any document, eight and a half by eleven, and makes a poster for you." This machine too caused general glee in the room.

The Ellison Cutter
Then I noticed a long wall of old, wooden cubbies with blocks in them. It looked like giant type blocks for a giant typesetting machine: an "Ellison Cutter." Dave became very excited and had to show me how it worked. The thick, rubber block has a sharp, metal fence embedded in it and bent into the shape of a letter, number, or object. You put the block in the press and stamp it onto a flat material -- usually colored construction paper -- and voila! You have your shape. He made an orange construction paper key for me:



There was much animated discussion about what shapes they had recently gotten in, what shapes they already had, which ones were popular for particular projects. It was clear that this wonderful machine, that drew no electricity, never crashed, and would not have to be replaced or upgraded in three years, was well loved and well used.

That's what a library is for at Harvard-Westlake school. It's a place to go to pick up an audiobook, check out a laptop, sit and listen, sit and read, cut a shape, make a poster, or check out an old, oversize edition of images of Ancient Greek pottery for a project on heros. And then there are the people you go to see there, the librarians, who can help you navigate the dizzying array of tools at your disposal so that you can get at the ideas you need.

People and ideas in a place.

1 comment:

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