In Smartphone Era, Students Still Head to School Library

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by Trevor Metcalf, courtesy of (Danville Register & Bee)

At George Washington High School’s (VA) student library around 2:30 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, students are busy. Some are looking for books, while others work on research projects on the computers.

Around all of the activity, librarians Haley Walters and Kim Roberson say the activity points to a singular belief: in an age of smartphones and evolving technology, school libraries still matter.  “We have a lot of kids who just enjoy reading,” Walters said.

Walters leveraged that enthusiasm for reading into a grant proposal for the American Association of School Librarians’ Inspire Collection Development Grant, and submitted the grant just before winter break.

Recently, the library organization announced GW was one of six recipients of the grant. The school will receive $3,000 to improve its selection.

“The need for general fiction, graphic novels, and hi/lo books is significant in order to support so many students who are entering the school reading at below grade level,” said grant committee chairman Floyd Pentlin in a news release.

Additionally, Walters said for many students the library is the only place access books — with few chain or local book stores in the area.  “This area is a reading desert in a sense,” Walters said. “A school library is where they get books.”

The library association considered Danville’s high crime rate in awarding the grant, saying many students were impacted by the trend.  “Their need for a welcoming, safe school library is high,” Pentlin said.

Roberson and Walters said students are still checking out hundreds of books a month — more than 500 books in April and more than 600 in March. Roberson said many will ask the librarians about upcoming and new releases in manga and novel series.

Tunstall High School Linda Yeatts said her students also enjoy checking out books — even though the convenience of technology is seductive for everyone.  “I would say that what I notice with my students is 90 percent of them still prefer print sources,” Yeatts said.

In addition to maintaining online catalogs, Walters said the librarians often help students with becoming more computer literate — even though many can use smartphones, they still have much to learn about work processing and other basic computer tasks.

Yeatts described her library as a place both exciting and conducive to studying and researching projects.  “It’s a very centering place,” Yeatts said. “It’s a great place to come work.”