As you may know, our Library recently underwent a major, and very exciting overhaul which was motivated and driven by two key motives.
The first was the desire to provide more of our students with real-world opportunities to learn the skills associated with ICT. By skills we didn’t just mean the technical skills, but also the so-called softer skills associated with problem-solving, team work and customer-interaction. (I say so-called softer skills because I agree with a comment I heard recently from a former Telstra Business Women’s Award winner that the ‘soft skills’ are as essential in leadership as the ‘hard skills’ and are actually harder to learn and harder to implement).
From this desire came the vision to set up and train our own student-led help and technical services activity - which then needed somewhere to work! Hence the new HTS desk in the library designed to fulfil this.
The second driver in re-furnishing the library was the desire to continue to run a vibrant, inspirational book-library. This is not something every school values - a number of local schools have in fact decided to down-grade their book stocks or even close their libraries, and some libraries are even suggesting that libraries are superfluous:
“When - as we are now starting to see globally - schools move from the digital mode where the operations are still conducted within the traditional school walls to the networked mode where those walls are dismantled, the old book-dominated school library becomes an anachronism.” Mal Lee - Connections (the SCIS newsletter for all library staff.*)
As a College, we are not convinced! For one thing, in terms of preparing our students for future study, we have to acknowledge that the Universities have not abandoned books. In fact, both Griffith and Bond have invested in fabulous dual function libraries, and part of our role has to be to train our students up so that they are ready to get the most out of Uni. Therefore, the more we can design our facilities to mirror those of University, the better.
However, there is also another reason. We are concerned that the argument that the ready availability of digital information makes book-dominated libraries superfluous is a bit like arguing that the ready availability of treadmills makes cross-country running superfluous. Actually, the two can co-exist perfectly happily and although, on a basic, utilitarian level, they both provide the same ‘product’ (ie both treadmills and cross-country trails provide a place to run) on a number of other levels, they actually provide some very different ‘products.’ Treadmills for example, do not provide fresh air, or that sense of connection with the senses, let alone any sense of connection with nature that many value; and in the same way screens do not provide the tactility, or the potential for deep focus that many find so important, or even what one young adult recently described to me as ‘that sense of connecting directly with the author and all the other people who had read the book in the past’.
And then there is another aspect: I’m not a runner, but I have used pools to train for open-water swims. Those open-water swims are lodged in the happiest parts of my memory and so I can still recall the feel of the water, the wind, the sights and sounds, and what Emerson called ‘the drinking in of the wild air’. However, I cannot remember the pools! In the same way, some books become part of who we are, not just because of the content, but because of the whole experience of curling up with them as a young adult. (I still vividly recall reading Alan Sillitoe’s ‘the loneliness of a long distance runner’ one cold winter holiday in the fens of Eastern England, and I still remember Sillitoe speaking beautifully of the way “the long-distance run of an early morning makes me think that every run is a life - a little life, I know - but a life as full of misery and happiness and things happening as you can ever get really around yourself”).
And in a way, because digital information is now so instant and everyday, reading a ‘real’ book is even more of an event now than it was when I was young. We should encourage those moments. The poet W H Davies wrote: “what is life if full of care / we have no time to stand and stare /... / no time to turn at Beauty’s glance / and watch her feet, how they can dance.”
The private moments reading books enable us to stand and stare in a way which screens rarely do; and though I’m not suggesting this kind of connectedness and memory-making cannot happen with digital books, I am suggesting that if we do not give our children the chance to learn of the connectedness that comes through books, we may be depriving them of what, for many, can be a wonderful experience.
For these reasons, we stand steadfast on our insisting on not only making the digital world more accessible in our newly re-vamped Library, but also on making the biblio-world more accessible too.