Monday, May 11, 2015

President Obama's Library Initiative : So Close Yet So Far

There is always cause for applause when a Presdient, or political leader takes an interest in promoting reading.   Reading is the most basic of all skills that every person should be capable of doing.  If they don't know how to read,  the opportunities that could be open to them are almost non-existent.  Think about it :  jobs, health,  and legal issues all are effective by education and reading levels.  When President Obama announced a couple of weeks of ago about library initiative tied with ConnectEd,   first reactions were positive.  Until, like many of his other programs, one begins to look closely at it and sees gaps that should have been addressed before rolling out the idea/programs.

The President calls for encouraging reading though ebooks for urban children.  These ebooks would be available through an app that will be developed by the many publishers that have agreed to be a part of this project.  Wonderful!  One problem with this, how will the children access the app if they do not have a smart phone or tablet?  The research  out there which measures such things as television, computer usage and availability, all point to the fact that access to the Internet is limited or next to non existent in urban areas.  One could argue that schools have been providing tablets for their students to take home.  Again in most urban areas if the neighborhoods are failing so are the schools.  In most cases, these urban school districts lack the funds to upgrade their computer labs much less be able to afford a tablet for each student.   Sad but true reality.   Snag (and a huge one) number one for this program.

One of the biggest questions to come to mind is why President Obama seek the consultation of librarians, both in schools and public libraries.  Yes,  the American Librarian Association is working alongside the President's staff in making this initiative a success.  However, the real "war" stories are from the school librarians and children's librarians working in these urban cities who on a daily basis know the frustrations that the children and parents face.  Why isn't the ALA bringing to the President's attention that many of these urban schools have school librarians that are dismal and a staff that is next to non-existent.  Why not come out with the statistics that demonstrate the strong connection of academic achievement and access to a quality school library?  That doesn't seem to enter the big picture of this initiative at all.

Finally,  children will learn the love of reading when they are encouraged to read on a daily basis.   Let's face it,  technology is not the "answer" to every problem.  It's a tool but not ultimate answers.    An app on its own will not make a child a better reader.  A book will not do that either.  What helps a child to be a reader is a caring adult, (be it a parent, teacher, librarian or neighbor) who takes the time to share a book.  This means reading to the child, or encouraging a child to read the book and share insights on the story.  It is amazing how books can be wonderful conversations starers and the doorway to learning more about people who read the books.   Seriously, parents if you want to know what your kid is thinking,  share a book with them and discover how your child views their world.

President Obama is correct in the assessment that children in urban cities need help in gaining access to books.  However,  his method is flawed.  Librarians have been fighting the battle to bridge the digital divide and improve reading skills for years.   Just like any fight worth fighting,  it's a slow process of winning one battle at a time.  As Librarian At Large promotes:  Helping Children discover their world one story at a time.    Shouldn't that story should be averrable in any format that helps a child the most?  
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