[library-media] LA Times article about why it's not a good idea to close school libraries

Julie Atwood Julie.Atwood at slc.k12.ut.us
Wed Mar 31 12:29:22 MDT 2010

A news article passed on to me by a friend...

Saving the Google students
By Sara Scribner
March 21, 2010

For the Google generation, closing school libraries could be
disastrous. Not teaching kids how to sift through sources is like
sending them into the world without knowing how to read.

The current generation of kindergartners to 12th graders -- those born
between 1991 and 2004 -- has no memory of a time before Google. But
although these students are far more tech savvy than their parents and
are perpetually connected to the Internet, they know a lot less than
they think. And worse, they don't know what they don't know.

As a librarian in the Pasadena Unified School District, I teach
students research skills. But I've just been pink-slipped, along with
five other middle school and high school librarians, and only a parcel
tax on the city's May ballot can save the district's libraries. Closing
libraries is always a bad idea, but for the Google generation, it could
be disastrous. In a time when information literacy is increasingly
crucial to life and work, not teaching kids how to search for
information is like sending them out into the world without knowing how
to read. 

Instead of simply navigating books and the Readers' Guide to Periodical
Literature -- an annual index of magazine and newspaper articles used in
the olden days -- today's students sift through an infinite number of
options: books, Internet sources, academic databases. Much of the time
they opt for Google, which is like beingtossed into the ocean without a

An info-literate student can find theright bit of information amid the
sea of irrelevance and misinformation. But any college librarian will
tell you that freshman research skills areabsolutely abysmal. Before
they graduate from high school, students need to be able tounderstand
thephenomenal number of information options at their fingertips, learn
how to work with non-Google-style search queries, avoid plagiarism and
judge whether the facts before them were culled by an expert in the
field or tossed off by a crackpot in the basement.

As even struggling school districts manage to place computers in
classrooms, it's difficult to find a child without Internet access. But
look closer at what happens when students undertake an academic task as
simple as researching global warming -- tens of millions of hits on
Google -- and it becomes clear that the so-called divide is not digital
but informational. It's not about access; it's about agility. 

Most children consider a computer search second nature, so trying to
give them instruction or advice can be difficult. Recently, noticing
that a sixth-grader didn't know how to search the school library
catalog, I tried to show him the steps. "You don't need to tell me," he
said, clearly insulted. "I know how to use a computer!"

It is especially shocking when students attempt to tap into the
library's catalog system by entering a book search on Amazon or
searching the website for Accelerated Reader's BookFinder (an online
database that contains every book included in the Accelerated Reader
program). They sometimes don't understand that these are discrete sites
and systems. For them, the Internet is one big amorphous information

And to most kids, whatever they read on the Internet is "all good."
I've been told, quite emphatically, that the Apollo moonwalk never
happened, the Holocaust was a hoax and George W. Bush orchestrated 9/11
-- all based on text, photos or videos found online.

Although students might be able to hack through a school's video-game
blocking devices, they have trouble formulating successful search
queries and making sense of what they find. This needs to be taught --
again and again and again, in different grades and in different ways. 

Librarians can show students how tojudge a website and how to avoid
landing on bogus ones. We can also train them to come up with the kind
of precision search terms that could save them hours of sorting through
a heap of useless hits.

To research global warming, for example, I'd suggest an academic
database such as ProQuest's eLibrary or SIRS Researcher, which have
age-appropriate content. Or I'd steer students to reliable Internet
sources from library subscription sites such as Britannica Online, which
are vetted by experts. I could also teach them to use Google's advanced

Instead of laying off librarians, we should be studying how children
think about information and technology. We need professionals to
advocate for teaching information literacy from an early age. We need
librarians to love books -- to inspire kids to turn off the screen
sometimes and get caught up in a story -- but we also need them to train
students to manipulate search engines and databases, to think about
themin a fresh way. 

Instead of closing library doors, we need to give librarians the time
to teach what they know: basic research survival skills that are as
important as reading, writing and math. If we don't teach our kids to
take charge of information, they will get swept aside by it. 

Sara Scribner is a librarian at Blair International Baccalaureate
School, a public middle and high school in Pasadena.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Julie Atwood
Educational Technology / Library Media
Salt Lake City School District
Phone (801) 578-8391

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