Culture, economics, educational, homeschool, tales from the local library

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing School Library

A quiet trend is emerging in many schools as our culture has shifted almost completely towards technology as the main source of information: the demise of the school library.

Our youngest children have never attended a traditional school. They have been exclusively home educated, with additional supplemental instructions provided through enrollment in educational programs and cooperatives which we pay tuition and fees for them to attend.

Our oldest children, however, attended traditional school from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and the school library as well as its librarian, was a large part of the life of their schools. Because we have been disconnected from the happenings at our local schools for most of the past 7 years, I was quite surprised to read this by Krysta at Pages Unbound:

Years ago, my school library closed. The administration declared that no one was using the library and that it had become “obsolete” with the age of the Internet. The room that was once a library is now a computer lab. And the administration probably still feels proud that they are being “innovative” and keeping up with modern technology. The irony, however, is that the school library was only ever as obsolete as the administration and faculty made it. And, if they had wanted to, they could have saved the school library within a few months.

My school library closed because no students ever used it. No students used the library because it was primarily open during school hours and briefly after–and no teacher ever seemed to think about bringing their classes to the library. Students were not allowed out of class for essentially any reason (except, of course, sports), so could not go to the library by themselves. In short, the school itself prevented students from using the library because they blocked access to it.

I was completely incredulous of this as a trend. I usually am when I read about the disdain supposedly smart people have for libraries. Leaving aside for the moment fiscal issues or drag queen story times, a library is useful for all kinds of things and to all kinds of people no matter what our particular ideological bent might be. Our local library branches nearly always have brisk traffic and our family’s use of its services is so frequent, the fiscal argument is lost on me anyway. My tax dollars may be wasted with regard to the public school system, but I more than make up for it with our use of the local library.

After reading the Pages Unbound post, my incredulity remained, so I decided to do a bit of clicking to find out if it was really true: Are school libraries becoming obsolete even as school districts clamor for greater and greater tax increases and gambling legislations to pump more money into education? Have we really decided, as we simultaneously learn how damaging excessive screen time is at young ages, that access to books is unimportant and the printed word is obsolete?

Unfortunately, it seems Krysta was not being Chicken Little here. (I never really thought she was!) This is a real and troubling trend. One of the most enlightening articles I found was a piece at Architecture and Education’s Disappearing School Libraries-Why?

An interesting question posed by an Australian researcher, Terry Byers, on Twitter got me thinking. He asked, “Why do architects and school leaders see them [libraries] as redundant spaces?”

Is part of the redundant libraries issue a bigger problem with teaching spaces winning ground (quite literally) from more social, perhaps less official learning spaces then?

My guess is yes. In this logic, it’s not just that space is redundant but that if that space can’t be directly and demonstrably linked to pre-established assessment-oriented learning activities it is now seen as an opportunity cost – get rid of it, use the space elsewhere.

The moral injunction that schools do all they can to improve learning when learning is tied to increasingly narrow definitional pressures and measures, and teachers’ and principals’ own careers being pegged to the visibility of student progression puts pressure on how physical space is seen. It changes what kinds of space are efficient in this logic. As Lyotard put it, “be operational (that is, commensurable) or disappear” (1984:xxiv also online here). If your library or staff space cannot be shown to contribute to the performance of the system and so its efficiency or value (within the terms of the system) remains an unknown, it loses out. This is the “terror” of which Lyotard writes. To be unvalued is to be anyway devalued. To be value-able means changing what you are.

Architecture and Education is a UK website. Interestingly enough, most of the articles I found initially were from English publications. Apparently, we’re not the only ones closing school libraries. However, this author’s point about pre-established assessment oriented activities rings true here. If there isn’t a clear connection between the use and presence of a library and the scores produced on the standardized tests, then the library occupies a space that would be much more efficient if put to use in a way that shores up the bottom line. Everything today, including education, is all about the bottom line. All the talk about doing things “for the children” is just that; cheap talk.

This cognitive dissonance is deafening to anyone who bothers to hear it.  The people who are most likely to clamor for more money to boost student achievement are also among the people to pretend to champion the plight of the poor and downtrodden: the families of children who are least able to afford to buy their children books. I’ll go back and pick up those ideological concerns that I initially laid aside because there actually is a direct link between academic achievement and library access.

The data shows that children with access to school libraries and librarians do better in school, so one has to wonder how the educational powers that be (who also primarily inhabit the political class which pretends to defend the poor) arbitrarily destroy school libraries rather than trying to revitalize them for the sake of the students. The data as present by Kappanonline:

Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.

Skeptics might assume that these benefits are associated mainly with wealthier schools, where well-resourced libraries serve affluent students. However, researchers have been careful to control for school and community socioeconomic factors, and they have found that these correlations cannot be explained away by student demographics, school funding levels, teacher-pupil ratios, or teacher qualifications. In fact, they have often found that the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.

Funny that I, with my conservative values and money to buy my homeschooled kids a book whenever I feel like it, care more about student access to libraries than the people whose job it is to serve those students’ interests.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, films, tales from the local library

Movies and Moral Helplessness: Reblog

While ostensibly working hard on a project that must be completed in no less than two weeks, I entertained a brief diversion which I rationalized because it took me to the very deep Circe Institute blog. There I found Joshua Gibbs interviewing his rationalizing alter ego on the subject of indulging in big budget films.

In this particular case, he is dissecting his decision to go to the theater and watch Jurassic World 2, which we also saw. I’ll post a portion of it here, but the whole thing is worth the short period required to read it.

In the lobby of a local cinema, I was approached by a journalist conducting interviews.

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me what movie you’re going to see?

GIBBS: Uh, sure. I’m about to see Jurassic World 2.

INTERVIEWER: Very good. And why are you excited to see this motion picture?

GIBBS: Oh, I saw the trailers for it and I thought they looked pretty good.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say this looks like a life-changing movie?

GIBBS: (chuckling) Well, no. Of course, it’s a dinosaur movie. I’ve seen plenty of them, and they aren’t exactly life-changing.

INTERVIEWER: Perhaps you don’t think movies can be life-changing?

GIBBS: No, that’s not true. I’ve seen a few life-changing movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia changed my life back when I saw it in 1999. But there are scores of classics, too, which have changed me for the better. Ordinary People. Ace in the Hole. Babette’s Feast. I definitely think a good movie can make you more humane, more understanding. To understand all is to forgive all, as the French say, and God will forgive us the way we forgive others, so a good movie can certainly have great spiritual value.

INTERVIEWER: But not Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: No. I’m only seeing this because—

INTERVIEWER: Well, perhaps Jurassic World 2 is going to be very memorable. It will not change your life, but you will dwell on it, ruminate on it, nonetheless. A film doesn’t have to be great in order to be of value. When you leave the theater this afternoon, how long do you think you will ponder Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Ponder it? Um, you know, probably not for very long. There’s really not much to ponder. To be honest, I’ll have probably forgotten I saw it by the time I wake up tomorrow.

INTERVIEWER: I see. Well, perhaps the really great movies that can make you a better person are hard to track down? Great things are rare, after all.

GIBBS: No, actually. There are plenty of really great movies I could check out for free at the library down the street. Great movies are easy to come by.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, well, I am sure you’re not seeing a great movie this afternoon because you’ve already seen them all, correct?

GIBBS: Well… No, that’s not the case. There are scores of great movies, or movies that I’ve heard are great, that I haven’t seen. I haven’t seen many Kurosawa movies. I haven’t seen Ran or Seven Samurai, but people rave about those pictures. I haven’t seen any Tarkovsky movies, though I’ve heard Stalker is amazing. I don’t know Ingmar Bergman’s catalog very well, though people always say Wild Strawberries is very beautiful. They say the same about Yasujirō Ozu’s movies, like Tokyo Story. My mother doesn’t like foreign films, but she says she always cries at the end of Tokyo Story because it’s so profound.

INTERVIEWER: Apologies, sir, did you say you could get these great movies for free at the local library?

GIBBS: Um, yep. Yes, I could.

INTERVIEWER: And how much did you just pay to see Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Eleven dollars.

INTERVIEWER: Sir, I don’t want to misrepresent you, so I would like to make sure that I have your story straight: You could easily and cheaply acquire beautiful films which you would remember for a long time, change your life for the better, and grant you a more human and forgiving spirit, but you have instead decided to pay eleven dollars to see a dinosaur movie that will not make you a better person and which you will entirely forget about in just a few hours?

GIBBS: (sense of moral helplessness intensifies)

Sigh. Squirm. Maybe that’s just me.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

And enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Culture, tales from the local library

Forbes pulls stupid article which suggested that Amazon could replace public libraries.

I never actually read the article in question, only learning of it as a result of the ever informed and prolific book blogging of Krysta @ Pages Unbound. She goes into detail why an Amazon bookstore could never replace a public library.

When the original Forbes link failed, I went looking for it and found out via Quartz that Forbes pulled it as a result of the outpouring of dissent from local libraries and the communities they serve.

On Saturday morning Forbes published an opinion piece by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas with the headline “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” It quickly received enthusiastic backlash from actual American libraries and their communities.

As of around 10am US eastern time this morning, the story had nearly 200,000 views, according to a counter on the page. As of 11am, though, the story’s URL has been down.

“Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Spirited dissent is no reason for a respected media outlet to pull its article, but in this case I think Forbes did the right thing. I was also slightly amused by the fact that, on the heels of the preceding post here on public shaming via Twitter, the misinformed economist in question got a mild dose of Twitter induced shaming. I do not have a Twitter account and thus was spared the temptation to pile on. Y’all know I love me a public library. That was a joke.  I was never, ever tempted to pile on.

Better informed -and apparently better educated- economists have already done an excellent job of teasing out how much the original economist, Panos Mourdoukoutas, overstated the financial impact libraries have on individual homeowners who pay taxes to keep libraries funded. Moreover, the idea that local residents could ever pry “unused” dollars away from the coffers of local municipalities is a joke worthy of a good belly laugh.

Most of the dissent was offered on behalf of the indigent who are largely dependent on public libraries for access to everything from books and summer lunch programs, to foreign language classes, to Internet service. These are indeed worthy programs, the loss of which would further devastate residents of communities which are already struggling.

However, for those not indigent nor particularly moved by whether or not the less fortunate have access to services and amenities the middle and wealthier classes take for granted, it is worth noting that far more than indigent, urban dwellers would miss out if libraries suddenly closed. We live in a middle class community of well-kept, appreciating homes, a well stocked pantry and decent enough schools. Nevertheless, we too, would miss out on a great deal if Mr. Mourdoukoutas’ ideas were taken to heart. Here are just a few (off the top of my head) programs and/or services our family has utilized courtesy of our public library:

  • Book clubs and summer reading programs
  • Story times (all five of our kids have participated in these programs from age 18 months -5 years old.
  • Science classes including everything from learning circuitry to seeing reptiles up close
  • Art classes
  • Typing class
  • Graphic cartooning class
  • Kid concerts and shows

Those are just the few I can think of for the few minutes I have to currently devote the mental energy. Our library also offers classes in arts and skilled crafts such as sewing, knitting, and crochet. Libraries are one of the few areas besides roads and first response services which I am proud and happy to have my tax dollars funding.

That the author of the original Forbes article was either unaware or discounted the value of the myriad services and programs offered by libraries illuminates yet another area of American life where values are diverging more and more. Mothers at home with young children, suburban families in general, and those without the means to simply whip out their laptop as I am currently doing could never make up the gap a loss of libraries would create at a mega bookstore.

And you don’t have to buy a cup of coffee to study at a public library.

 

books for women, genres, tales from the local library

The anti-aging genre.

I ran across this cluster of books in our library’s featured titles section and was immediately struck by the implications. In the health section of that library, which is one of the smallest branches in our county, there are tens more of them. Given the explosion of books dedicated exclusive to cheating Father Time, I’d say anti-aging qualifies as its own genre separate from health and wellness. There is a distinction to be made between desiring wholeness and well-being, and a dogged pursuit of the fountain of youth.

The opposite of aging, for those unaware, is death. We either age or die, and we certainly cannot “age backwards”. So books with titles like these bother me, and here’s why:

Look at the psychological game the library tries to play here by marking these books as part of the ya category (young adult). Why would a young adult be interested in a book on looking younger? Conversely, what do these books’ target audience gain from the characterization of the books as young adult?

They are, after all, marketed directly to women like me. Namely, these are catnip for 40-something women, many of whom are in various stages of mini-crises. The crises range from sexual and relational, to career and motherhood and everything in between.

In our youth worshiping culture, a woman who is recently divorced, grappling with her rapidly changing body, or just watching a daughter blossom into everything she used to be, these titles are tempting. I find them sad. And yes, even I have read a book or two which focus on adding a little friction (okay, focus on adding a lot of friction) to what can feel like a fast downward slide. Usually they are –like this one- medical in scope.

One of the reasons I review the books I read about this season of life, even though I grappled at first with whether to do it, is that openness helps keep me tethered to the reality of where I am on life’s journey. It makes it possible to grow older gracefully* rather than give in to the pretense of stopping the inevitable or turning back the clock. There is no way we can be 25 again, or 35 again, no matter how well we eat and how far we go to pretend otherwise.

I recognize that my life has been touched by heaping measures of grace and love which make it easy (or easier, at least) for me to grow older gracefully. I’m not in the brutal postmodern dating market. My husband long ago lost all objectivity concerning my looks and desirability, which I embrace as the blessing that it is. I have adult children, but also relatively young children to raise yet as well. There are bits of residue and vestiges of younger years present in my daily life.

At the end of the day, however, 46 is 46 is 46. Age is not relative, and all any of us can do is take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can, enjoy where we are, and try to live in a way that brings comfort and solace during our twilight years. Fantasizing over books telling us we can “crack the aging code” are not helpful over the long run.

But since when has contentment sold any books?

*Disclosure: I am fully persuaded that my grandmother would vehemently disagree with my assertion that I am growing older gracefully with one perusal of one of my health receipts. She could stretch the dollars I spend on collagen peptides, bio-identical progesterone, make up and skin care over a fortnight with little effort. Hopefully the money I save on hair dye and anti-aging books makes up for it. A little.

Culture, nonfiction, tales from the local library

The ABCs of Adulthood

The ABCs of Adulthood: An Alphabet of Life Lessons, by Deborah Copaken. Hardcover, published in 2016. 72 pages.

While browsing the library’s shelves this morning (a very relaxing activity for me), I ran across this little book. Since I was momentarily between books and this one is extremely short, I grabbed it and read through it. It took all of twenty minutes.

This little book is exactly what it implies: an A to Z quick view list of little and not so little things the emerging adult might do well to remember. Put an emphasis on might, in my opinion, as some of the advice is downright awful.

Beginning with the letter A for anger, which the author calls a useless emotion, to the letter Z for Zzzzs, to remind the reader the importance of getting enough sleep, Copaken offers a book written with her children in mind. Indeed, some of the advice is quite good.

Anger is often -if not always- useless, but everyone would do well to pause and reflect before acting out in blind rage. Advising her readers to keep in mind that having children (letter C) shouldn’t be an afterthought and that prime childbearing years have an expiration date is also a good reminder at a time when these decisions are often pushed off to the last and most risky minute as people chase other dreams.

Despite the good advice this book offers wih regard to health and getting on with forming a family, it undercuts it with dichotomous, destructive sex advice (letter S). The cognitive dissonance involved in telling young people that they should feel free to enjoy sex with any person  they like and are attracted to as often as they want, without guilt, but take care of their health and emotional well being is the kind of thing that makes this book worthless. If the last 60 years has taught us anything, it’s the danger and destructive fallout that comes of trivializing sex.

J was for Jung, which I found partiuclarly intriguing given that I am in the process of reviewing Jordan Peterson’s latest book. Peterson draws heavily on the psychological research and philosophy of Carl Jung, whom this author also strongly recommends young people read if they really want to learn how to think. I’ve only read a bit of Jung, but the intersectionality of his work with the present trend towards finding sanity and liberation from the cultural madness makes me a bit more curious about what he had to say. We’ll see.

If the worst advice was on sexuality, the best advice, particularly in this current culutral climate, was O for Offline. I’m sure no further explanation is required on that. There were in fact, several valauable bits of information that might not be glaringly obvious to a young person being launched into the adult world. Unfortunately, that same lack of experience makes the bad advice that much worse.

If  I was rating this one purely on the scale of my own belief system, I’d probably consider it below average. But I’ll give it an average grade since it does get some things right.

 2.5 out of 5 stars.

 

children's books, Culture, tales from the local library

Feminist Baby: The Sequel

A while back, gripped by incredulity, I mentioned this book which I ran across while in Barnes and Noble, the Feminist Baby.

Because I was incredulous, it never occurred to me that such a silly book as Feminist Baby could evolve into a series of note, but apparently, it has. My incredulity is more symptomatic of how out of touch I am. This lately occurs more often than I realized, but I digress.

Feminist Baby is back, and finding her voice, no less:

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

Feminist Baby is learning to talk
She says what she thinks and it totally rocks!
Feminist Babies stand up tall
“Equal rights and toys for all!”

Let’s disregard for the moment my sincere and well known problems with the ideology of feminism as a whole. This increase in political “literature” for toddlers combined with feminist “fashion” for toddlers (yes I’ve seen it in the flesh), raises a larger question for me, and it’s this:

With so many things in the larger culture encroaching on the innocence and wonder of childhood, why would anyone choose to read this to their toddler in lieu of real, living books which highlight wonder and beauty? How are children served by political indoctrination as early as possible?  In whose universe does a bull horn toting, equal rights clamoring baby belong aside the likes of:

Cover image - Goodnight Moon

Image result for the very hungry caterpillar

Image result for The Snowy Day

Image result for Madeline

Image result for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

It doesn’t.

There will be time to infuse our kids with our political thoughts and ideologies. They’ll pick most of it by osmosis anyway. There’s no need to infect them with adult cares before they can even understand what they mean.

Real books never get old and they speak to us, young and old alike, across the generations.

Nonsense is only good for a fixed point in time, such as this nonsensical Feminist Baby series.

 

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, tales from the local library, Uncategorized

On lost library books…

…and the resulting loss of dollars.

As much as I love the library, there is the occasional downside to checking out books there. Among those are late fees and lost books.

One of the things I like about our library is that not only do you get three weeks to read your plunder, but you also get three renewals so long as the book isn’t being waited for by another library patron. I routinely keep books for nine weeks. Routinely, and not because it takes me nine weeks to read a book, though that has been known to happen.

No, I keep books for nine weeks because with three bookshelves in the house, and the tendency to read books everywhere from the bathroom to the kitchen, to the car, I often misplace books.  Usually, I find them before they are due and avoid fines. Occasionally, however, they are not found before the nine weeks are up, and fines start to accrue.

Depending on the book (hard cover or paperback, new or old, in demand or no one cares), I risk the fines in the hopes that the book will turn up. It’s worth it to me to pay $3 in fines on a $29 book and the more valauble the book, the more diligent the search, and the more likely it is to be found.

Some books however, such as the one which inspired this mini post, make more sense to just pay for. It’s a really cheap book, despite inspiring more conversation here than this blog has ever experienced before or since. So when the nine weeks and a few days expired, I reported it lost and paid for it. Total of around $12, if I recall correctly.

I just found it. I’ll take it to the library, and they’ll give me back half of what I paid them for the loss. Sigh.

Files this one under tales from the local library.