Opinion: E-readers not welcome hereeSchoolNews, which bills itself as providing “Technology News for Today’s K-20 Educator” recently published, digitally of course, an article titled “What schools should consider when buying e-readers.” And before I even made it past the first paragraph of the article, I had answered the author’s question with a much simpler response than his own: Schools should consider not purchasing them in the first place and whipping any they currently have in Lake Mitchell or whatever their corresponding body of water happens to be.
By: Joe Graves, superintendent, Mitchell School District
eSchoolNews, which bills itself as providing “Technology News for Today’s K-20 Educator” recently published, digitally of course, an article titled “What schools should consider when buying e-readers.” And before I even made it past the first paragraph of the article, I had answered the author’s question with a much simpler response than his own: Schools should consider not purchasing them in the first place and whipping any they currently have in Lake Mitchell or whatever their corresponding body of water happens to be.
No, I’m not a Luddite. I love computers, the Internet, and all the other recent devices which share the rather odd prefix, i-. It’s just that I also believe you can have too much of a good thing. And where I draw the line on too much of a good thing is at any and all sorts of slick little hand-held, cold, impersonal, battery-operated, obnoxious, book-impersonating digital screens.
And it is not that I fail to understand or appreciate the obvious advantages of e-readers. Thousands of books can be contained on an e-reader at any one time and, with an Internet connection, the access to books is virtually infinite. Thus, I can take a library of books with me wherever I go rather than be limited by the weight restrictions of the number of tomes I can carry.
I also realize just what this might mean for school libraries. The libraries at MHS, MMS, LBW, GBR, and Longfellow all contain tens of thousands of books organized in understandable and aesthetically pleasing ways such that our students do not lack for literary access.
But though our libraries are chock-full of books, they nevertheless have two disadvantages.
First, they have only the tiniest percentage of all the possible titles available on the market, which reaches into the tens of millions. This may not seem like much of a disadvantage, but back in my high school debate days at Lincoln Senior High School, locating source materials for evidence was a constant struggle even in Lincoln’s rather large collection. The evidence I wanted existed, but not anywhere I could seem to find it.
Second, maintaining the collection — weeding obsolete and dilapidated books, purchasing both replacements and new titles, etc. — is a never-ending and expensive battle that must be constantly fought or you will wind up with a room full of lousy, tattered, old books that resembles a library only in the way that my weedy, overgrown backyard resembles the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The school library of the future — perhaps a nearer one than I want to admit — will not be a room but an e-reader handed to each student, probably as an app included on their mobile computing device, containing hundreds of thousands of books at their fingertips for which the school has simply paid a subscription. The library is open, forever, and it is so large as to perhaps be beyond the human ken.
But the fact that it may be beyond the human ken may also be the problem. Will a kindergartner really curl up with an e-reader with anything like the joy with which they curl up with “Horton Hears a Who”? Can this handheld abomination really replace wandering among the stacks looking for your next adventure?
Actually, given the alacrity with which young people embrace technology today, perhaps it can. Perhaps it already is.
Sadly, the more I argue, the more I suspect that I am indeed ready to be inducted into the Methuselan Order of Luddites. I’m still quite overwrought by the fact that the publishers of Encyclopaedia Britannica no longer put out a hard-copy edition. On the few occasions when I have had to move my own books, my overwrought back screams over that labor of love.
But I won’t be purchasing a Kindle or Nook or whatever other little charming moniker the “book” sellers are giving to the devices they are peddling these days. Rather, I will stick with, as Bing Crosby sang in “Lazy,” one of the signature songs from Holiday Inn, so many years ago, “a great, big bulging valiseful of books to read where it’s peaceful.” For books will remain my friends as they have seemingly always been.
A pox on all your e-readers! May they name the next one Hal.