But first let’s hear from Andy Strong, a children’s librarian at the library in Rockford, Illinois, during the 1990s:
“When the library cut its hours, it drastically reduced storytime programming. In fact, service to parents and young children is a shadow of what it once was.
“In its heyday, mothers and children would leave the library with armloads and tote bags full of books. Head Start would routinely bring busloads of children to dedicated storytimes weekly, introducing new families to the joys of reading and the power of library use.
“Part of the mission of assuring an informed citizenry is in supporting the growth and development of our youngest future sovereign citizens. And I would argue that learning to pull a book from a shelf with one’s own hands, and learning to read from a book with pages is qualitatively different than using a screen. The research is already starting to bear this out. Add to this the caution regarding health effects from electronic devices, and I think I’d prefer to cuddle up next to my child with a non-EMF-emitting paper book, thank you.”
The LibraryCity take: I do not agree with everything above—for example, a Kindle isn’t the same EMF threat as an old cathode ray tube monitor, especially if you don’t use WiFi—but oh how right Andy is about library priorities!
We need to reinvent early childhood education, family literacy and library storytelling hours to accommodate the new technology.
Children should learn to read from e-books as well as p-books, the gateway drug. That means not cutting the number of branches or their hours. If librarians or teachers can visit receptive families at home to tailor-make family literacy programs, based on what they find there—well, so much the better.
Football, baseball or basketball game on the tube? Then on the spot, the visitor could ask a few questions to guide the family to appropriate books or other fiction or nonfiction.
E-books, including the open access variety favored by the Digital Public Library of America, could drive down the costs and allow the books to pop up instantly on the e-reader gadgets the librarians were accustoming the families to.
As I see it, a national digital library system among other things could team up with local libraries and schools on family-oriented pilot projects that used both e-books and p-books and focused on words and stories and related them to children’s surroundings, as opposed to relying simply on technology alone.
Parent-child reading, with both generations asking questions and commenting on the content, as opposed to fixating on techno frills, is the ultimate social medium.
Related in the New York Times: Before the First School Bell, Teachers in Bronx Make House Calls.
Detail: I’ve shortened the paragraphs in the quote from Andy.
Update, Feb. 23: More thoughts from Andy—in reaction to the library’s plans.