To most of my readers this question may seem irrelevant. I nonetheless ask it after having attended a meeting of mostly young parents about the need or otherwise of creating a school library at a relatively new primary school. Naturally, the cost of both this and the future role of technology in the school were foremost in the minds of those present. You might not consider these aspects mutually exclusive, but here are a selection of comments aired in the meeting:
Books are too costly, referring to text books, non-fiction and fiction, you can download them at a fraction of the cost whenever you need them.
Books take up far too much space and quickly become outdated. [I know my home is groaning under the weight of books we have collected over many years, yet I have fond memories of books we have referred to over and again – even some we have reread for the sheer joy of doing so – and of the many books our children enjoyed and have been enjoyed all over again by their children. Each of our grandchildren have expressed wonder at seeing the name of their parent, uncle or aunt emblazoned on the inside of the cover … “Wow!”].
Children need to use the technology available to get the information they want. Books are no good for that.
One of the parents, who works in the telecommunications industry, was adamant that primary school children should be shielded from ‘too much’ exposure to computers in any form: I, of all of you here, know the dangers of radiation, she announced boldly. Books are there to be treasured and to be loved [a woman after my own heart]. Some stories never date and if they do, donate them to children for whom they will be new.
The real shocker for me was the confident confession from a mother of a three-year-old boy: I have never unfolded a book, she declared. I could see that some of the slightly older parents in this particular discussion group were as taken aback by this statement as I was. The woman could sense the negativity around the table and spoke more loudly: What? I’m a Millennial, what do you expect? She went on to explain that she has never introduced her son to a book, but assured us that she has several stories suitable for him stored on her iPad. He can see the menu, clicks on the one he wants and then the story is read to him. The words are even underlined as they are spoken, so he can follow them! She sounded so proud of this achievement.
I cannot help thinking of the special feeling of reading stories to my children and later on to my grandchildren; of turning back the pages or pausing so that they could have a good look at the illustrations; of reading the same story over and again; and the delicious feeling of a small child cuddling ever closer to me while I read.
Presentations were made by the various discussion groups to the parent body as a whole as the meeting drew to a close. No firm conclusions were drawn as this was part of an ongoing discussion about changes to and the expansion of the school. During the hubbub of tea and sandwiches, a mother approached me with I have only read books to my two children, she confided quietly. Some of them have become really tatty, but the stories are favourites.
I drove home that night thinking of the book waiting on my bedside table; of our vast home library; of my grandchildren’s enjoyment of bedtime stories; and was left wondering if that Millennial’s sentiment is one that is gaining traction.
Do you think books are still relevant?