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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