School libraries in 21st century schools?

The School Libraries & Information Literacy Unit at State Office, NSW DET, is asking for comments on the question, “Do we need a school library in 21st century schools?”. There is a School Libraries 21C blog and associated readings.

Today I added thusly:

I love those reports from country towns, where their tiny public library facility would be under threat of closure – and many of the people who turn up to the town meeting would be residents who’ve never actually stepped foot into the library. But they realise its importance, and they don’t wish to contemplate the possibility of life without a public library. Just in case…

Even for myself, I tend to buy most books I want/must have/need to read. My own ventures into libraries unknown (public, university and school) – as a then-class teacher, when a mature age student, and also when researching a commercial piece of freelance writing – are quite sporadic, but the thought of a 21st century that’s somehow “moved on” from the concept of a physical library space is quite abhorrent.

But I think I am ready for any future library to have a different size, shape, location (partly in holographic or even cyber space?) or collection. I stare at my amazing, new iPhone – which is so reminiscent of Dick Tracy’s funky little two-way wrist radio/computer in comic strips of the 50s – and am lost for words. I mean, I only just discovered that my iPhone has been diligently copying across all songs I’ve been downloading from iTunes to my Macbook Pro, ever since I bought it last September. I simply hadn’t thought to look in that bit up till now!

The other day, while doing a presentation about wikis and blogs, and relying on a live Internet connection, the link went down and we had to call for a replacement computer. Only later, I remembered that all of my extended notes, on another page of the wiki, were accessible via my iPhone’s internet connection. I had my palm cards, of course, but the PowerPoint material and much more were only a few button-presses away!

An off-the-cuff mention of Tasmania tigers yesterday, during Year 6’s library lesson (we were looking at a unique picture book, “How WEIRD is that?”, one of this year’s Crichton Award CBCA nominees), permitted the impromptu calling-up of 1930s b/w moving footage of Australia’s last captive Thylacine, and now we can display him on the IWB at point of need.

Library books aren’t going away – I’m especially reminded on those days when air-conditioner-overload causes yet another blackout in the library, but the power of us having so much instantaneous information is both exciting, and another whole can of worms (as to helping students to be able to sift their way through it all).

Memories of the Bookmobile

Bookmobile, circa 1950s

A friend just found this wonderful contemporary postcard last week, promoting the City of Sydney Library Network, an area which includes the public libraries at Customs House (Circular Quay), Glebe, Haymarket, Kings Cross, Newtown, Surry Hills, Ultimo and Waterloo.

The postcard depicts the iconic 1950s Mobile Library, more commonly known as “the Bookmobile”. (There are no copyright details on the image, although it’s #SRC124, City of Sydney Archives).

We had a Bookmobile in the Rockdale Municipal Council area, when I was in primary school in the 1960s. I recall distinctly our beloved teacher-librarian, Mrs Janette McKenny, telling us that there was such a thing – and, for months, I envisaged a colourful, open-to-the-elements Mardi Gras-like float, festooned with feathers, streamers, book posters, balloons and glitter. And loud, zany people selecting books.

I was more than a little deflated the day I actually saw its rather bland, neutral tones rumble past our school sportsfield one Friday afternoon. (I think I was supposed to be fielding. Or something.)

But this card made my friend smile with nostalgia. Ditto for me.