Rustle of Pages Vs. Click of Mouse
It has become unfashionable for those of us who work in libraries to refer to ourselves as librarians - it makes us out to be old fogies.
My official title, "educational media specialist," immediately tags me as progressive or proactive. I don't, in fact, work in a library: I work in a "media center." Some of my contemporaries are referred to as "information specialists" who work in "learning centers." Buzz words and educational jargon aside, what I really am is a teacher who also happens to be a librarian and in addition has responsibility for my school's electronic equipment. My job is to teach research strategy and also, hopefully, impart a love of learning and reading.
But I have serious misgivings about the "virtual library." A modern library in which books and magazines are scarce, and perhaps eventually nonexistent, makes me cringe.
I realize that the electronic library is all the rage, but I fear this trend in information science may be going to extremes. A good part of my workday is spent in explaining how to use CD-ROMs and navigate the Web. Since each CD has its own set of user instructions - not always user friendly - I've had to become an expert in using computers to access information. The same is true for the Internet, which doesn't always make information readily available. And as responsive as students are to computers, they often don't look to machines for educational enlightenment, but rather a source of entertainment.
So before we have a "burning of the vanities," like Savonarola's followers, and destroy our books, let's recall that the use of books does provide certain advantages. For one thing, they're not at the mercy of an electrical source. One can go where one wishes with print in hand. Neither are print media at the mercy of rapidly changing computer technologies. They provide constancy in a world of relativity.
In Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" the firemen of the future burn books in order to discourage independent thought - the antithesis of the democratic state. I'd hate to see our society become so eagerly caught up in worshiping the idol of technological progress that we dehumanize ourselves.
There is no real trick to training students to access information through the use of computer programs. Unfortunately, unless we are willing for our children to become automatons in the process, I foresee a potential danger if we don't equally encourage the ability to evaluate and analyze information. A real danger exists in uncritically accepting everything on the Web simply because someone chose to place it there.
The revolution in library services provided by electronic retrieval of databases is valuable. The computerized card catalog saves time and trouble.
But I'd hate to think of books being "surfed" rather than read. Reading books encourages us to think. Therefore, it is essential that books continue to coexist with technology in our libraries and homes. In many high-tech libraries book space is being sacrificed for computer terminals, while rare, old books are being tossed out. The cost of new computers is also diverting money from the purchase of books.
As soon as I finish typing tonight, I intend to save my writing on a word-processing program disk, shut down my machine, and then stimulate my intellect by cuddling up with a thought-provoking book.
* Jacqueline Seewald is an educational media specialist at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, N.J. Her most recent book, a children's mystery, is 'Who Is Robert?' (Royal Fireworks Press, 1997).