School libraries are disappearing - and this is why it matters

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

The school library was my favourite place as a kid.

It was there, surrounded by books, that I was able to give my introverted mind some space between classes that demanded I be more extroverted; it was there that I met my tribe, away from the playground filled with kids who seemed to enjoy bullying me.

The library was a haven.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm researching high schools for my oldest child.

I was looking forward to seeing how school libraries are done now: imagine the opportunities available to modern schools, given the range of books on offer, the ways in which these could be married with technology, the knowledge we have about the benefits of strong literacy!

But school libraries, apparently, aren't what they used to be - and not in a good way. Of four high schools I looked at (both public and private), I saw three very different approaches to libraries.

The school with no library

One school I looked at had no library. No library at all.

When I told a friend about this, she said, "They must have just missed showing it to you on the school tour" – but no, unfortunately that isn't the case. You see, I asked about the library while on the tour, and was told that it simply doesn't exist.

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"All the kids do research online these days, anyway," was the response, and I nearly cried.

To say that research is the only reason for a library is to miss the point entirely.

Libraries are where kids should be able to go to find books to enjoy as well as to study; where kids should be able to broaden their reading tastes; where they should be able to find some down time in the school days that are bookended with chaos.

I understand that libraries aren't as relied upon as they were when we were at school in the (cough) pre-internet days, but they're still vital.

The decentralised library

At the next school I looked at, I asked the same question: "Where's the library?" (If the answer had been that it was another library-less school, I probably would have let the tears flow.)

The answer surprised me: this school has given thought to the evolution of libraries, and they've wondered about how the resources are used in the modern world. They'd asked for feedback from the students, and then created what they call a 'decentralised library'.

What that means is there's no dedicated library. Instead, the books are scattered into half a dozen spaces around the school: one in each year level's area, with the books divided according to age appropriateness and the topics being studied during that semester.

The idea is that the kids don't have to go to the books; the books are going out to where the kids are.

By chance, I bumped into the librarian while at the school – maybe us bookish types are drawn to each other – and so I asked her thoughts on this new library setup.

"I miss my library," she confided, "but the students are happy with this and they're borrowing lots of books, so it might just be a good thing."

The traditional library

Two of the four schools I checked out had a traditional library.

Sure, the libraries are located in the oldest, smallest buildings of the schools, but they're there: a dedicated space for kids to escape to, sit and read or browse quietly, and take a breath. A space for the often underappreciated introverts.

I feel calm just thinking about it.

I may be a traditionalist, but this is what I want for my kids.