Wednesday, February 23, 2005

In defense of public school libraries

Will Baude seems to think public school libraries, at least in high schools, are made superfluous by the mobility of teenagers. This makes several assumptions:
  1. The proper audience for a library is people who already want books and are willing to travel to get them,
  2. The window to encourage reading to minors is ages 5-13 and after that we are better off giving up and focusing on the people we've hooked,
  3. Teenagers who like to read have cars or access to public transportation that can get them to an off-campus library,
  4. Said off-campus libraries are not too far away.
In a wealthy suburban area, it's probably true that any teen who wants books can borrow the family car (or hop in his own) and drive to the local branch library to feed his need to read. Similarly, teens who love books in cities like New York or Chicago can probably make their way on public transit to a public library. But what of the poor teen? In a family with limited resources, teens can't count on being able to drive; their parents may need the car for work, and they are unlikely to be able to afford insurance. Poor teens in urban areas are better off than their rural or suburban counterparts, but transit's not free either. And in rural areas, a trip to the library might be some miles out off the beaten path. All of these teenagers are at school daily; why not make it easy and convenient for all of them to get books?

The presence of a high school library also indicates that we haven't given up on encouraging reading in teenagers and that we acknowledge their need for more substantive reading material. Many teenagers have to write research papers; how to teach them the rudiments of library research without a library, or a librarian? How to provide easy access to books to someone who may never have gotten into reading before? High school reading can be students' first encounter with thought-provoking, challenging books (although it often is not). If reading snares you late in life, we should support that, not allow it to slip away by half heartedly referring you to a building miles from school.
blog comments powered by Disqus