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The Relevance of School Libraries in the Digital Age by Mary Beth Romo

31 October 2019


A 2018 article in Forbes magazine suggested that Amazon should replace libraries. The ensuing firestorm of outraged responses on Twitter led to a quick removal of the article. What do libraries have that Amazon doesn’t have? What can librarians do that Google can’t do? And how are school libraries relevant to students who have unlimited information at their fingertips?

Contrary to popular belief, students are not experts at locating relevant and reliable resources on the internet. A 2016 Stanford History Education Group study revealed that “young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” The disappointing results of this study highlight the need for information literacy as a key component to a modern education. Here at St. George’s International School, a defined set of research skills are integrated into project and inquiry-based learning through the support of the library program. The faculty and library collaborate to foster ethical and effective consumers and creators of information by promoting critical thinking, reflection, and the use of new and emerging information technologies.

Whereas Google’s personalized search results can become filter bubbles or echo chambers, professional librarians are guided by core values and ethical principles that highlight the importance of diverse resources with a variety of viewpoints. As proponents of intellectual freedom, school librarians challenge students to explore content in a range of formats and perspectives, rather than the content with which they are most likely to agree, the most popular content, or the most easily accessible content. St. George’s School Library endeavors to provide resources that reflect the needs of our culturally diverse student body and are aligned with our curriculum and our mission to promote mutual respect and understanding.

School libraries nurture a love of reading and learning, the importance of which is epitomized by a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” The implication is that reading for pleasure cultivates imagination and creativity, as well as the ability to empathize, communicate, and exchange ideas. Multiple studies have demonstrated the powerful impact of strong school library programs and their link to student achievement.

Given the present atmosphere of political polarization, it is crucial to develop a generation of critical thinkers, professionals, and leaders with a global perspective, who can lead the way toward a peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous future. Amazon should stick to selling stuff. Google should focus on their algorithms, or their shareholders, or whatever it is they care about. My colleagues and I – we’ve got this.

 

Mary Beth Romö, librarian

St. George’s International School

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