Dreaming: What school libraries could do


Great piece on the opposite-editorial page of the Dallas Morning News today, with solid suggestions on how to improve high school libraries, thereby improving reading and student achievement. Andrea Drusch, a student at Lake Highlands High School, vents a bit, and we would do well to pay attention.

Most English teachers will tell you, “Kids just don’t read like they used to.” I disagree. Recently my high school treated students who passed all classes with a trip to Stonebriar Centre. Upon arrival, a large group flocked straight to Barnes & Noble, where they stayed until the bus ride home. On the bus, they exchanged books and discussed favorite authors. If high school kids are willing to dish out $17 on books at the mall, then why isn’t a room the size of a basketball gym full of books free of charge appealing to them?

Well, the walls aren’t exactly lined with Oprah’s Book Club selections. Instead, libraries try to appeal to 17-year-olds with the same old Crucibles and Scarlet Letters they have been trying to shove down our throats for years.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks have students lined up out the doors, and it ain’t just for the coffee. At Starbucks, students can pile a table sky high with books and conduct study groups, or just decompress and chat. Barnes & Noble chooses the books it provides to its customers through something called the New York Times best-seller list, not through what 10th-grade English teachers think is appropriate.

Make school libraries more like these places.

I don’t blame the librarians, though — I’ve been to too many school board meetings where the latest cuts in the library budgets weren’t even questioned. I hope that parents, and maybe librarians, will copy Ms Drusch’s article, and send it to their school board, principals, English teachers, and to the social studies and science teachers, too.

Libraries should be places where kids hang out to learn. Getting them to hang out there would be an improvement over turning the library into a book museum, or a book vault, as too many schools have done.

For the record: The latté I had at the Irving (Texas) High School library the last time I was there was pretty good, despite it’s being a bit do-it-yourself. I had to wait in line to get it, there were so many kids in the library.

[Full text of Andrea Drusch's piece below the fold, in case the DMN ever takes it down.]

Andrea Drusch: Give me a reason to go to the library

We read at Starbucks; we can love reading at school, too

08:39 AM CDT on Saturday, September 29, 2007

A library is a place where you have to be quiet. All the time. You can’t have things like gum or water or anything made of metal on your person in order to enter.

While the setting is clearly not inviting to anyone under 60, chances are it’s the largest room in your child’s school. If this is going to continue, libraries need to make changes to stay relevant to the needs of 21st-century students.

Schools provide computer labs for daily use in classrooms with open doors, but the book collection in the library is guarded like Fort Knox. Credentials for entry include, but are not limited to: photo identification, library card and a signed, dated, timed note from your homeroom teacher. Retina scans and criminal background checks can’t be far behind.

The overall atmosphere inside is akin to being told “make yourself at home” in a stranger’s exquisitely decorated living room. Mistrustful librarians peer from behind the checkout stand, clearing their throat uncomfortably as they watch books being removed from their homes.

While some students still hang on to fuzzy childhood memories of story time at the community library, most high school students avoid it at all costs. As long as there are so many hoops to jump through for admission, why not install a turnstile to keep track of the number of students entering on their own free will? (This does not include class research projects, where students disappear into crevices to do homework, while thinking, “My Internet at home is faster, anyway.”)

The numbers would be shockingly small, especially if you eliminate students only using the World Books. These expensive collections are a gold mine to students when teachers insist upon including offline research sources. These teachers are apparently preparing us for a time when rolling blackouts plague North Texas, rendering all computers useless.

But what about the nonreference books? Most English teachers will tell you, “Kids just don’t read like they used to.” I disagree. Recently my high school treated students who passed all classes with a trip to Stonebriar Centre. Upon arrival, a large group flocked straight to Barnes & Noble, where they stayed until the bus ride home. On the bus, they exchanged books and discussed favorite authors. If high school kids are willing to dish out $17 on books at the mall, then why isn’t a room the size of a basketball gym full of books free of charge appealing to them?

Well, the walls aren’t exactly lined with Oprah’s Book Club selections. Instead, libraries try to appeal to 17-year-olds with the same old Crucibles and Scarlet Letters they have been trying to shove down our throats for years.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks have students lined up out the doors, and it ain’t just for the coffee. At Starbucks, students can pile a table sky high with books and conduct study groups, or just decompress and chat. Barnes & Noble chooses the books it provides to its customers through something called the New York Times best-seller list, not through what 10th-grade English teachers think is appropriate.

Make school libraries more like these places. Open them before and after school, and allow students to bring in coffee and breakfast, as long as they keep away from computers and book shelves. Even students who aren’t hitting the books at that particular time should be able to enjoy an atmosphere of couches and tables in the company of their friends. Computers for research and for personal interest should be available to everyone and occupy the majority of the space. New releases of books should be purchased by popular demand and displayed where they will be seen to attract students.

Faced with becoming relics, libraries can change. A 21st century library could truly lead schools into the future.

Andrea Drusch of Corinth is a senior at Lake Dallas High School and a Student Voices volunteer columnist. To respond to this column, e-mail voices@dallasnews.com.

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One Response to Dreaming: What school libraries could do

  1. [...] students with good ideas about improving schools Not on the same academic plane as Andrea Drusch, but important. See the details at Pharyngula, “Growing bolder in [...]

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