This year the School Library Curriculum Service is controversially coming to an end, replaced by loans to schools of general high-interest reading collections. Teachers and students are to go online to access all they might need to support the curriculum. At first glance that might seem reasonable, after all we are turning to online sources for information more and more – ‘googling’ has become a verb – it’s what we do when we want to answer a query quickly. Searching multiple sites can help us build up considerable knowledge on a particular topic, getting contrasting views and up-to-date research.
And yet despite this trend I persist in writing non-fiction books for children (those very books that are to be no longer delivered as part of a curriculum service, although hopefully still included in the ‘high-interest’ collection and considered a ‘must’ for school collections). I write books for two reasons. First, this is still the only viable commercial model open to most authors. But more importantly, because the form of a book allows for the development of an idea, to take the children on a journey through the beach habitat, the garden environment or under the ocean. NZ Children’s book judge Annemarie Florian describes books as Mindfood “something substantial to chew on and digest” – I wonder how many digital resources meet this criteria?
In my next blogs I’ll be addressing the assumption that there are enough digital resources that can meet children’s curriculum needs, and looking at what it takes for a digital resource to be truly substantial enough to chew on.
If, for a moment, we assume that digital resources exist in the same quantity and quality as children’s non-fiction books, there is the issue of equality to consider. The School Library Association SLANZA have raised the problem of access to digital resources for different schools – rural schools, low decile schools. Add to this the problem of what access students have in the home. A library book can be sent home for parents and children to read together – sending home a list of websites or links relies on equality of technology in the home.
Schools can be forgiven for feeling they’ve had the rug pulled out from beneath them. Knowing what services School Library Services provided, schools could budget (and most did) to build collections aimed at high-interest, reading engagement, because special curriculum requirements could be met through the curriculum service. Now they must reconsider their collections and budgets.
Bernard Beckett blogging on the School Library Service transformation sums up the situation well – “This is one of those areas where we are asked to judge a current service we know well against a proposed service which may or may not work in practice.”