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Za Tour of the New Alton High School: Where are the books, babe?

As part of our 40th reunion we toured new new Alton High School, open just a year now and built at a cost of several millions. Among it's charms, it boasts a three-court gymnasium. There's also a beautiful auditorium and stage...a pit for the pit orchestra (I ducked down there for old times sake)...and a back-stage area to build and store sets....dressing rooms. A theater arts teacher from a neighboring district was practically on the floor in paroxyzms of jealousy. The orchestra and band reside in separate practice rooms; the band room is a little bigger, natch. Everything state of the art.

When we came to the library, we saw a beautifully designed and technologically well-equipped space. But, babe, where are the books? For the thousands of students, there were barely three books per student, I'd reckon. The last six stacks were completely empty. The stacks were prominantly marked with pictures and smaller language labels.

When I asked our guide "Isn't the library a little light on books?", he told me that no one reads books anymore. No one needs books anymore. It's the technology. Everything is done on computer. Books are a thing of the past.

I don't think so.

This view of the Alton High School Library and the guide's answer shocked me. Rather than seeming progressive, it seemed a sign of declining literacy. I spend many hours getting my needs met by computer...I belong to an organization of electronic publishers promoting e-books and e-book readers (EPIC)...my book and my father's latest book are both available in e-book format...but, at the end of the day, I sit down with a book I can turn the pages of.

My great-niece has spent the summer reading...books...real books...the old-fashioned kind, the page-turning kind. So has her younger sister. Together they have probably read a quarter of the number of books in the Alton Senior Library. Waking up in the morning, in leisurely slowness, A. asks M. to run get "The Tempest," and she reads out loud to us from a beautifully adapted version of Shakespeare's classic. M. plays peacefully with her Pretty Ponies while I relax on the bed, listening, transported to Prospero's Magic Island. You can take a computer to bed, but not like this.

Of course I was a shameless, bookish child and that led to my doom...to be a writer...to be an observer and participant in the world.

Bring back the books folks. Otherwise, there's a half-nelson on your children's futures.

(But then, perhaps I'm a secretly hopeless Luddite. My favorite thing on the whole tour was the hall clock from the old school, brass all polished up, and enclosed in its own glass and wood case.)

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5 Responses »

  1. I agree. Books are one of the most clever inventions of the ages. Perhaps one day they will be replaced, but that day hasn't come yet. Taking a computer or an e-reader to the beach just doesn't have the same appeal as leisurely flipping the pages under your umbrella as a summer breeze wafts by.

  2. Was the guide a 16 year old? How can we survive without books to cuddle with, devour, treasure and pull off the shelf at a whim's notice? To see the print, the decorative page breaks, the feel of the paper, the maps to refer back to, the sense of the writer at her computer turning out all this wondrous word world...I don't want to get lost in cyber-space. I want to drool over the words from the comfort of my bed, chair, beach blanket or tree limb.......Here's to the likes of Amelia and Maggie, thank goodness for the example their family has set for them and we should all do the same for our youngsters. Yes, I can rant on this subject way too long....Arletta

  3. Had the same reaction when touring my kids brand new hi-tech high school...I don't get it at all. I loved books. Still do. Summer reading for me meant going through the local library one shelf at a time. This summer, nostalgia set in, as I sat down to read the latest page turner in the Harry Potter series. I started reading to my kids when they were still in the baby swing and I read aloud to them until they were both in middle school. They both love reading, too.

    A school library without books...how sad.

  4. There is absolutely nothing to compare to curling up with a good book. A book that you can hold in your hands, feel it's heft and turn the pages. I can get immersed in the world of the book. Not so the computer screen. It puts a barrier between me and that world. I set at my desk and skim the words, trying to get the quest of the meaning. How sad that for the sake of convenience and space they forgo the books.

  5. I am so grateful that our mother read to us when we were children, every night. Somehow, maybe from watching the storybook pages, I could read before I started school. I have learnt so much from reading. Without books, my vocabulary would be much smaller.

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