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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Between the Lions...

Written on April 26, 2010..

Our nation's school system has failed our children. Or maybe it was the Internet. Or Hip Hop. Yeah, it was ALL Hip Hop's fault. Okay, I'm totally kidding. I'm not 100% sure about what messed up our youth, but give me time 'cause I'm still trying to figure this shit out.

So why do I feel this way, you say?

Well, that's a damn good question my friends. As a matter of fact, I made my assessment during a recent trip to the library that I had with two preteens. (I'll call them X and Y because I didn't get permission from their parents to blog about them.) I thought I was going to the library just to give X & Y a ride so they could work on their school project, but boy was I wrong.

I decided to bring the boy cubs along with me since I was going to the library anyway. I figured we could pay my late fees (I was naughty), rent a few books, and maybe even play at the park afterward. But, when we got there X & Y needed my help. I thought they would go on their merry book-searching way, but was surprised to find out that those two individuals had no idea how to navigate their way through our public library system.

I was in shock.

They thought they were supposed to use the computers (you know the ones that you would use to search the library system for books) to "google" the names of books. X & Y aren't idiots so I was just plain surprised when they even asked me what to they were supposed to do do. Sure they went to the customary class field trip to learn about the library, but they never checked out a book during that visit. Nor did their parents ever take them to the library on a regular basis when they were growing up. Their lack of library knowledge was clearly a case of "if you don't use it, you lose it".

How did they ever survive so many years without ever needing to check out a book?

Now, before you think that I need to shut up and get off my high horse, please take note that I'm absolutely not knocking these children or their parents. They were, after all, raised in a society that is completely reliant on technology. We live in a digital world and I myself am guilty of the same dependency. The Internet was just starting to get popular when I was Senior in high school, but I learned quickly in college that is was easier to just Google answers. Even my own library trips slowly died down.

What's happening out there?

One of my friends is an educator and she also said "computer dependency" is a social norm that is here to stay. I hope that X & Y are outliers in our youth today, but I doubt it. We live in a society where children get library cards, but don't get to use them as frequently as they should. Why go the library when you have the world at your fingertips? On top of that, our public library system (at least here in California) has been hit with budget cuts and employee furloughs.

The Internet has taken over the world.

My own kid can type faster than he can write neatly. I try to make a conscious effort to take the cubs to the library on at least a monthly basis, but it's hard with our demanding schedule. The digital age has been a blessing and a curse. Why try and figure out what the library's furlough hours are when I can Google ebooks 24 hours a day? Or perhaps, just go to Target or Barnes and Noble to buy a book to add to our home library?

It's all a convenient mess. 

Our society gives little value to the archaic things we used to appreciate so much. I adored the library as child. I could spend hours and hours there. Now, the library isn't as available as it should be. Just recently I took Boo thinking we could rent some books at 6pm at night only to find out that the library closed!


Why do commercial book stores stay open longer than the library? Isn't the "library research experience" important any more? I miss the days when every kid would own a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Even John, the smallest bookworm of them all, owned a set when he was a kid. His grandmother, God rest her soul, lovingly lugged the entire set for several blocks just to give it to him. Every kid needed an Encyclopedia Britannica set and/or a library card back in the day.

Now, you get a kid a laptop and you're a rockstar parent.

Most computer purchases are placed under the ruse of "being for school", but kids end up spending more time surfing the net than actually typing papers. Technology is great, but it's harmful too. I'm just saying that we need to be more mindful of what we're teaching our future leaders.

I thought I was just playing chauffeur that day, but it turned out to be a wonderful experience for my cubs and X & Y.

I gave them all a sound lesson on how to navigate the library system. X was doing a research paper on Vincent van Gogh. I told X to type his name in the search bar "like you do on Google" and hit enter. Of course, a whole slew of book titles came up on the screen. This then prompted me to show her how to refine her search. Once we found a book that appeared to be useful, X asked me what we needed to do next.

I saw a light bulb slowly start to appear over their little heads.

We went to the shelf, found the book, and I was reigning champion of day! The boy cubs cheered out of excitement -- like we were on a hunt and just found the treasure. I decided right then and there that my boys needed their own library cards. I've been renting books for them under my own card, but it was time for them to become masters of their literary universe.

So, I took them to the counter so we could get the paperwork started.

Boo and Kevin were excitedly chattering like birds during springtime. My boys were so proud when they finally got to write their names on their cards.  X & Y had their own cards from their school field trips, but since misplaced them. So, the librarian looked up their information and I paid the $2 fee to get them new ones. I then explained to the cubs that having a library card is a huge responsibility. I stressed to them that when you a rent a book you have to promise to bring it back on time. X & Y were listening as I when X suddenly blurted out, "Do we have to pay?"

Then, the librarian snorted.

He was just as surprised as I was with that question. I turned to X and explained that libraries run things like credit card companies do. The card lets you get things for free because the library trusts you. So, it's important that you don't mess up your credit and "pay" on time. X seemed to understand this concept a little better after I gave her that explanation. After that I took the boys to the children's section so they could pick their books. As another librarian checked us out, she commented on how there should be more parents like me in the world.

The comment was flattering, but I felt like it totally bogus in describing me.

I hadn't even planned to go to the library that day. I  taught them that life lesson by happenstance. However, I will take my boys more frequently from now on. And, I'm glad I got this wake up call early. The cubs may always prefer the Internet over the the library, but at least now I know that they know how to use the Dewy Decimal System. And, if you don't know what the DDS is, perhaps you should take a trip to the library yourself.

This has been a public service announcement :)

A World of Wonderment...
Kev using his card...
Boo using his card for the first time...
My Lions with their first rentals...
Kev's selections

Boo's selections

Watch this video if you're wondering why I chose the title of this post.

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