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This January 24th, 2007 column by a school librarianship about how our role
is more about data than books these days was published in several major
newspapers recently.

Both a link to the article as well as the full-text are below.

Davinna Artibey
Teacher Librarian
Denver Center for International Studies
Denver Public Schools, CO

Commentary: Thomas Washington: The lament of the modern librarian

WASHINGTON -- I'm a librarian in an independent area school here. We're
doing all the right things.
Our class sizes are small. Most graduating seniors gain admission to their
college of choice. The facilities are first-rate.

Yet from my vantage point at the reference desk, something is amiss. The
books in the library stacks are gathering dust.

When I started in this profession five years ago -- I used to teach English
-- I presumed that librarians were mostly united in their attraction to
books. But as I moved along in my library science program, I found that
books weren't really our focus.

Information management, database networking and research tools claimed the
largest share of the curriculum. In other words, literacy today is defined
less by how English departments or a librarian might teach Wordsworth or
Faulkner than by how we find our way through the digital forest of
information overload.

Typically, many people in my line of work no longer have the title of
librarian. They are called media and information specialists, or sometimes
librarian technologists.

The buzzword in the trade is "information literacy," a misnomer, because
what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love
of reading and books.

These days, librarians measure the quality of returns in data-mining stints.
We teach students how to maximize a database search, about successful
retrieval rates.

What usually gets lost in the scramble is a careful reading of the material.

Students are still checking out the standard research fare -- the Thomas
Jefferson biography, the volume of literary criticism on Jane Austen -- but
few read it.

The library checks the books back in a day later, after the students have
extracted the information vitals -- usually an excerpt or two to satisfy the
requirement that a certain number of works be cited in their papers.

Conventional wisdom has it that teenagers don't read because they're too
busy. Only after high school, sometime midway through college, do young
adults reconnect with their childhood love of reading and make books their
partners for life.

I don't think so anymore. The 2004 Reading at Risk report by the National
Endowment for the Arts concluded that literary reading was in serious
decline on all fronts, especially among the youngest adults, ages 18 to 24,
whose rate of decrease was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult

To counter this trend we set up a "new arrivals" display shelf this school
year. It's stocked with best-sellers, young-adult fiction and DVDs. We also
maintain a top-shelf lineup of books that we hope will entice young minds
and bring them back to the reading table.

We position the books on tiny stands and place notecard teasers underneath,
much as Borders bookstores promote the managers' top choices.

No, I'm not foolish enough to think that the books are going to move off the
shelves like jeans at Abercrombie, but any school librarian who hasn't
figured out some way to market his goods probably needs to find another line
of work. These days, librarianship is all about making the sale.

Recent front-runners in my school library include "The Boy Who Fell Out of
the Sky," Ken Dornstein's memoir about his brother's death aboard Pan Am
Flight 103; "The Overachievers," on how our culture of high-stakes education
has spiraled out of control; and "Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews."

While I wait for nibbles on these and other books, my colleague and I paste
eye-catching posters on the walls. These aren't literary quotes, either.
Today the American Library Association's posters have employed Denzel
Washington to encourage kids to read.

But how many of these students really buy the message?

A library's neglected shelves reveal the demise of something important,
especially for young readers starved for meaning -- for anything profound.

Still, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I'm turning the
new-arrivals shelf into a main attraction in my school's library. Recently I
stood Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" next to the DVD version produced by the
BBC. Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) graced both covers.

A senior fingered the DVD for a minute, then turned it over to read the
blurb. "The book is too long," she said. "Is the movie any better?"

"You're right. The book is long," I said. "But once you start this one, you
won't be able to put it down, right from that first page about the London

"I think I'll watch the DVD," the student said.

And in my library ledger, I'll register this as a sale.

Washington is a librarian in an independent Washington, D.C., area school.
He may be reached by e-mail at

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