Hello Kids (tee hee,)
My name is Laura McHenry and I’m a children’s librarian in southwestern Colorado. I had contacted the Hellokids website to see if I could subscribe to an e-newsletter to include in my parent newsletter that I send out bi-weekly via e-mail. No, I wasn’t a parent of young children, just a children’s librarian. Jenny, of Hellokids, said the site didn’t offer that service but would I be interested in writing children’s book reviews for the site? You bet!
I like to ask children and adults, at the beginning of a library children’s program (as that’s my bailiwick,) what their passion is. It’s interesting to hear the responses. My response? I’m passionate about my job. I love every aspect of it. I especially love being a liaison with my community encouraging library usage and possession of library cards. I like to say that the only good thing about our euphemistically termed “economic downturn” is that more people are using our library and our varied services.
In that spirit, I would like to discuss “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq” written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. This is available in Spanish under the title “La bibliotecaria de Basora: Una Historia Real De Iraq.” (There is also a graphic novel titled “Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq” by Mark Alan Stamaty.)
Before war broke out in Iraq, the citizens of Basra were preparing as best they could. Alia Muhammad Baker’s chief concern was protecting all the books in the library where she worked. After going through official channels and getting a “no” from the governor, Alia acted of her own accord and painstakingly started taking books to her home by the carload.
Government officials began to use the library for their offices. When the war began everyone abandoned the library, except Alia. She enlisted the help of neighbors and friends as they helped move the books to a safer place, her friend’s restaurant. Alia’s fear became a reality as the library burned to the ground.
The books were moved again to Alia’s home and friend’s homes. How many books? 30,000 – many of these books were irreplaceable! Alia wasn’t able to save all the library’s books but saved about seventy percent according to the New York Times article “After the War: the Librarian; Books Spirited to Safety Before Iraq Library Fire,” by Shaila K. Dewan. This article sparked Jeanette Winter’s interest and “The Librarian of Basra” was born.
This book, simply told, is a testament to what can happen when one person takes a stand and does the right thing against tremendous odds. Alia Muhammad Baker took her stewardship of the books in her library seriously and they are safe as a result.
I love to use this book as an object lesson regarding strength of character and bravery. It really emphasizes a love of books and gives one a peak at a different culture.
Fast forward six years to 2009 . . .
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.” H’mmm . . . According to an article in the Boston Globe, by David Abel, James Tracy of the Cushing Academy, a ninth through twelfth grade college preparatory school in Massachusetts, is planning a library without books – a learning center. Of the 20,000 books in Cushing’s Fisher-Watkins Library collection over half have already been given away. The academy is going digital and is spending in the neighborhood of $500,000 to provide their alternative to books, found in electronic devices. Caffeine will be de rigueur with a $50,000 coffee shop and a $12,000 cappuccino machine. H’mmm . . .
According to the article Cushing “is one of the first schools in the country to abandon its books . . .” In the face of continuing library closures I feel this sets a dangerous precedent especially since Cushing’s main goal is to promote leadership and stewardship. Ironic? Methinks so.
In Dr. Tracy’s own defense, possibly to placate skittish parents because of his infamous quote and controversial decision, he posted a letter on Cushing’s website. “This year, the library still houses 10,000 volumes, and many of the books that have been removed from the library have found new homes in departmental offices – faculty had “first dibs” on all books before the remainders were donated to nearby schools.” . . . “Printed books are marvelous. I am an incurable bibliophile and fan of the aesthetics that are distinctive to the experience of reading a printed book. That being said, the younger generation as a rule does not share my nostalgia for the printed book, and they are discovering capabilities and aesthetics in the electronic world that my generation can scarcely fathom.”
“The future of learning is electronic, and it opens up possibilities for the democratization of knowledge that humanity has rarely dared dream before. The continuing reduction in cost and dramatic expansion in the availability of technology will soon put all of human culture in the palm of every student’s hand, from Boston to Bangalore. This is a different future, I grant you, but one that, if properly shaped for humanizing contingencies by pioneers such as Cushing Academy, holds the promise for extraordinary unleashing of human creativity and potential. The future is here at Cushing.” Pioneers? Only time will tell.
The following is also from the Cushing website:
“Newsbrief: Cushing's e-Library
Our internal research has shown that students rarely rely on printed books for their academic work, and instead search for information online, either in our library space or on their laptops. In order to effectively guide our students in using the myriad sources now available and rapidly growing in electronic formats, Cushing is working to create a radically different vehicle for accessing ideas and information.
Our current collection of 20,000 books will soon be replaced by millions of volumes in far less space and with much richer and more powerful means of access. Terminals we call “Portals of Civilization” will give ready access to everything humans have achieved, from every civilization, across an ever-expanding universe of culture.”
This was under the heading:
Transforming our Library”
. . . “Above all, it is important to know that Cushing Academy is not going "bookless." The issue at hand is merely one of offering books via an electronic or printed medium; many teachers continue to assign printed books in their courses, and students are encouraged to read literature in any format they find most convenient.”
I know, from my own experience, that it is difficult to spur teens to read who have not been nurtured to do so from a young age. Electronic gadgets can serve as a distraction and impediment in this case. Inspiring lifelong readers and learners becomes a herculean task without early exposure to books.
Don’t get me wrong. I spend an inordinate amount of my time in cyber-world as part of my job and everyday life. I’m not opposed to electronics. I just want a traditional library and a media center to co-exist peacefully.
I’ll get off my “literary soapbox” and solicit your opinion. What do you think? I always welcome comments. Please send any to My Mailbox.
GO FIND YOUR PASSION IN BOOKS!
Live from Maasai Mara
The Little Mermaid
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