A tool is defined by Webster as “something used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” We live in an era where the variety of tools at our disposal to perform daily tasks has never been greater.  In my opinion, our task as educators, and part of the goal of information literacy instruction, is to develop learners with the ability to select the best tool, be it digital or not, for the learning task. For me, bookless libraries, as discussed by Antolini (2009), Barack (2013), Haq (2012), Kelly (2016) and others becomes an issue around whether a specific learning environment is expanding or limiting opportunities for learners to choose the ideal tool for each task. In my experience, extreme shifts tend to limit choices, not expand them.

As a teacher librarian in a 1:1 learning environment, during the last ten years, I have seen a radical shift in the tools used by my school community for teaching and learning.  Three years ago, we implemented a 1:1 computing initiative in grades K-12; with our middle school using Chromebooks in a Google Apps for Education (now known as Google Suite) domain.  Today, about half of the teachers on my campus run paperless classrooms.  Even my job title. Media Integration Specialist, reflects the infusion of digital technology into our learning environment. I am the librarian, but in reality, I spend 60% or more of my time managing our digital instructional technology.

The library I oversee contains both paper and e-books, however, the integration between these two tools is not yet as seamless as I would like.  For example, our ebooks are on OverDrive, and I just haven’t gotten around to integrating those MARC records into the Destiny catalog system used for our paper media.  So my students have to search in two different catalog systems to locate books. Fixable? Yes, but the limiting factor is my time, which is largely spent keeping the devices and systems running.

As much as I appreciate the advantages of ebooks; reader privacy (others can’t see what is being read), immediacy (I can purchase a book in response to a student request and it will be in our collection less than 24 hours later) and expediency (no more chasing down overdue books), I find that many of my students don’t really like them. One of my eighth graders recently said “Ms. Kelly, I spend six hours a day looking at a lighted screen for my classes, I don’t want to read an electronic book for pleasure!  Believe me, that is not fun.” This is reminiscent of the negative comments made by Cushing Academy students regarding their bookless library environment, as cited by Antolini

Esther Vargas by CC BY-SA 2.0

There are additional disadvantages of ebooks, besides the electronic fatigue described by my student. Barbara Fisher notes in Haq  that ebooks are not always a thrifty solution;  libraries have to pay substantial yearly subscription fees to gain access to collections of ebooks and ejournals. A legitimate concern is the ownership status of digital content; as Fisher states “the library is renting these materials; it never owns them and if it stops paying “rent,” it loses the entire collection”. I have begun experimenting with metered-use ebook subscriptions; the way ours operate is that the title disappears from our collection after 26 checkouts. While this appears to be a sensible solution to cheaply gaining access to multiple copies of particularly popular titles, it remains to be seen if this scheme is as fiscally expedient as it seems to be. Alastair Creelman is quoted in Haq “The books you used to buy were not cheap, but once they were on the shelf you knew what you had. Not so with much e-literature.”

In spite of the heavy emphasis on digital technology in our school community, I think our staff has gained some valuable perspectives on the importance of providing robust opportunities for student choice in learning tools. Ten years ago, our project based learning activities included woodworking, sewing, electronics and use of studio art materials. Our recent preoccupation with digital technology shifted our PBL tools to digital animation, green screen, and computer graphics. What we have found is that, somehow, typing on a keyboard just isn’t the same was actually creating something with the hands.  So, we are now putting together a student resource lab where students can work on projects such as woodworking, sewing, and electronics, otherwise known as a Makerspace.

In the same fashion, our school community has come to the realization that, at least in the near future, paper books will not be leaving our library in some sweeping entirety, as with Cushing Academy or Minnesota’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s School . 
As stated by Camila Alire of the American Library Association in Antolini, “Students learn differently, and some students will take to digital resources and information technology like a duck takes to water,” Alire says. “And then there are other students who learn by turning the pages, by handling the materials.”

This does not imply that our school library will go unchanged. We move towards better integration of the digital and paper collections, more robust curated research resources and a flexible workspace, very much aligned with the Learning Commons model, as described by Holland (2015). I am revising the information literacy instructional program to emphasize critical selection of learning tools and resources best suited to the research task.  The library space now has an open plan flexible seating model with 10 different options for collaborative seating/workspace configuration that the students can organize themselves (which was envisioned in the Strategic Plan created by my 204 group last Spring; go Spartans!). Whiteboard walls are coming after Winter Break, and the adjoining student resource lab (aka Makerspace) is rolling out in stages throughout this year.

In Do School Libraries Need Books?, a New York Times blog, quotes author Michael Connelly’s thoughts about the value of libraries: “The library is a societal tent pole, there are a lot of ideas under it. Knock out the pole and the tent comes down.” As our school library evolves, our goal is hanging on to what what has worked, eliminating barriers and expanding choice for our students.


Antolini, T. (2009, November 9). Digital School Library Leaves Book Stacks Behind [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120097876

Barack, L. (2013, January 8). School Library Thrives After Ditching Print Collection [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/01/k-12/school-library-thrives-after-ditching-print-collection/  

Do School Libraries Need Books? [Web log post]. (2010, February 10). Retrieved from http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/do-school-libraries-need-books/?smid=pl-share  

Haq, H. (2012, July 17). ‘Bookless libraries’ – has it really come to this? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2012/0717/Bookless-libraries-has-it-really-come-to-this  

Holland, B. (2015, January 14). 21st-Century Libraries: The Learning Commons [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-libraries-learning-commons-beth-holland  

Kelly, B. (2016, May 31). In Omaha, A Library With No Books Brings Technology To All [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/05/31/477819498/in-omaha-a-library-with-no-books-brings-technology-to-all