"Now we've got the Internet, why do we still need libraries?"
A.B. Credaro ©2001-2002
Many thousands of web pages exist, comparing the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet instead of a traditional library. Many of these are personal opinions, with the authors ranging from commercial sites to professional organisations.
However, educationally-valid research on this topic has been ongoing for over a decade, with results compared over 3 continents so far. The findings prove conclusively that academic achievement - how well students perform at school - has a direct correlation to the quality of a school's library services. Click here for some details of this research.
The popular press in Australia a few years ago came to the conclusion that the "best predictor of academic performance was the students' postcode". However, this correlation was drawn from HSC results for particular schools. When the quality of the school's library services is examined, a further correlation becomes apparent - the schools in the more affluent areas had a higher quality school library services. Research has shown that developing good library services - even in economically disadvantaged areas - improved students' achievements in standardised tests.
So how does one define an exemplary school library service? It does not depend only how many books (or even computers) are in the school library, but refers also to the structure of the library programs, the number of qualified staff, the degree of meaningful access, and many other more technical aspects of library operation.
One example of this exemplary school library practice is that of keeping information technology in context with information literacy. In the recent past, school library book budgets have dwindled, as "technology" budgets have consumed a greater slice of the budget pie. Direct observation, supported by anecdotal evidence, has witnessed a plethora of students undertaking research via the Internet, without any reference to print-based resources. However, classroom teachers have noted that the "quality" of the information has decreased with an increase in access to the Internet.
Many students mistakenly believe that "everything" is available on the Internet. Whilst there is much valuable information out there, consider that:
- There are over 4 billion unique, publicly accessible websites
- Only 6% of these have educational content
- The average life of a webpage is 75 days
- Google, the largest search engine, has indexed less than 18% of the available pages
- A great deal of the Internet is not able to be indexed by traditional search engines, and remains hidden from them. This is known as the Invisible, or Deep, Web.
- Anyone can publish a web page - no-one checks that the information is correct, current or able to be authenticated
- And yes, there are unpleasant sites on the Internet, although these make up less than 1% of all web pages.
Consider comparing the above list with the resources in the school library:
- The resources have all been individually selected by a trained professional, to cater specifically to the school's educational programs
- A catalogue of the library resources exists, so that anyone can find everything in the library
- As the Teacher Librarian is a qualified teacher, as well as a trained librarian, there is always someone on hand to help find the information, interpret difficult concepts, and locate information from beyond the physical library.
The Internet is an incredibly powerful research aid, but can be time-consuming, frustrating, or misleading. However, there are many advantages to using the Internet for research, such as:
- The ability to access the very latest information. Library books take time to order, accession and be available on the shelves.
- Being able to communicate directly with subject experts by email. Whilst students can phone local experts, or write to distant ones, electronic communication allows fast, and cheap, answers to questions. Some Internet sites provide lists of subject experts who have indicated that they will answer these types of questions from students.
In exemplary school libraries, the teaching program includes instruction in the use the Internet. However, this is not restricted to merely "finding" web sites, but also how to evaluate the quality of the information found. Students also learn how to quickly access the best possible information, from facilities such as directories and databases.
Yes, the Internet can be a valuable extension to the school's library collection. But remember, it is mammoth in scale, unordered, and mainly unchecked. If you can imaging the world's biggest (print) encyclopedia, with every page ripped out, and each page ripped up, then the whole lot scattered like confetti... then try to find the meaning of a single term from a heap of unordered scraps of paper, you get some idea of the problems involved in using the Internet as an information source.
So, how does this relate to academic achievement? Without an exemplary library media program, administered by professional staff, students would not have access to lessons on using the Internet. The bulk of the school's library collection would not be able to serve its original purpose - information you can quickly access and completely trust. (And this doesn't even consider the need for provision of access to quality literature, personal information needs, nor recreational reading material.)
School librarians have been teaching skills in information location and evaluation for millenia. If you need any assistance in deciding when, how, or even if, to obtain information from the Internet, feel free to just ask your friendly Teacher Librarian. That is, if you'd prefer to keep your grades up and your stress levels down.