New York Review of Books : 18th May
A Country Without Libraries
Alan Gibbons comments:
“This is a very timely article. Governor Schwarzenegger of California led the philistine charge stating that text books were no longer needed. A massacre of public and school libraries followed. I attended the ECIS conference in Istanbul last week: Libraries at the Crossroads.” American librarians told me that one in four school librarians in the US have lost their jobs. Much of this is under the cover of new technology. ‘They can do it on the internet.’ Do what, I ask. While it is definitely true that e books are taking up more market share, it is likely that the paper book is here to stay. At the moment it has 94% of the UK market.
“But the debate is not between e books and traditional books. Many head teachers and politicians who promote ICT as an alternative to reading books are actually promoting browsing over reading, quick retrieval over study, information over narrative. In other words they are supporting the best analogy for the reader of the internet age is a whale sieving the krill of information tit bits. This is a recipe for disaster. Already many teachers moan about the tendency of students to skim and accept items from Wiki without any critical appraisal. A skimming culture is developing.
“The National Literacy Trust says that children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well. It is not just picking up a book. It is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing, comparing what you have read with family and friends. Librarians are gate keepers in that process. They open doors to new worlds, new possibilities. They ask library visitors to evaluate the information on offer. Most importantly, they give access to narratives. Children and adults do not just need information to thrive as thinking beings, but stories. Libraries are the temple of story. They are not in decline because of some natural, historic progression, but because of the monstrous cultural vandalism of savage cost-cutting. We will pay a terrible price for the behaviour of our masters.”