There’s a reason why multi-generational homes provide benefits to both the young and old. The young infuse vitality into the lives of the old and, in turn, the old provide experience and history to the youth which enriches their lives. A natural balance exists. This can be applied to just about any aspect of life, some more critical than others. None is perhaps so important as education. A balanced educational system comprised of rich history and energetic progress provides for a balanced community of people. There are consequences when the balanced is tipped too far in one direction.
Huff Post Education recently posted an article about a Minneapolis school library that removed all print materials and filled its space with digital resources. “Thriving” was how the library was described. Frightening is what I say. The balance is tipped too far in one direction and this kind of glorification of the destruction of a print collection is dangerous. While I wholeheartedly applaud and support the technology introduced into the space and recognize the immense value to students’ engagement in learning, I strongly believe something is lost when print materials are missing. It is much easier to forget or outright ignore the source of information in its abundance on the web. Everything and nothing is permanent. Things are owned by no one and everyone. Advancements in what is digital is invaluable, but so is the tangible. The creation of a print source is in itself a lesson on information compilation, verification, and distribution. The skill of editing cannot be practiced when everything is instantaneous and drafts are saved over. Do you remember your lesson on primary sources from school? What do you think happens when a primary source is lost even if a digital copy remains? The validity of the copy can come into question and it is no longer the holy primary source grail. History can only partially exist online. How can you accurately assess who you are, if you cannot see where you have come from and what you’ve done along the way? (More on the value of print sources in In Defense of Print parts 1 and 2.)
When a student reads a textbook and gets to something they don’t know, they are stuck,” Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski told the Associated Press last February. “Working with the same material on a digital textbook, when they get to something they don’t know, the device can let them explore. (Minneapolis School Library) Really? REALLY?? They’re stuck? You mean they don’t know how to look a word up in a dictionary or even how to find dictionary.com? Back in my day textbooks had glossaries and indexes. I guess they don’t make them that way anymore and I guess exploring a variety of resources in a well-stocked library (with both print and digital, mind you) doesn’t count for anything either. Where’s the opportunity to develop ingenuity if a device does so much thinking for you?
So, as libraries and other institutions scramble to stay relevant and save money, we should carefully consider the cost. Is it really such a bad investment to ensure adequate funding for schools so our students can learn from a rich array of sources, experiences, and talented teachers? Books are only irrelevant if you don’t use them. Without history, the youth are only half-prepared for the future.