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‘Media Centers’ have replaced school libraries

The library: a hushed atmosphere broken by the rippling of pages, the rifling of the card catalog and the gentle thump of the stamp marking the due date.

That was yesterday. Welcome to the library of the 21st century, where computer technology and modern audio-visual components have changed the face of the library.

“We don’t use card catalogs anymore,” says Jennifer Shell, media specialist for Greenville High School.

“We use computers to look up books now. Not only will it tell us if we have the book, it will also tell us whether or not it is currently checked out.”

At Butler County Magnet School, students checking out books no longer have them stamped in the traditional way.

“All our materials are bar-coded, and each of the students also has their own bar code. It streamlines the whole process for us, and helps tremendously with inventory,” said BCMS librarian Deana Roper.

Students looking for books on a particular subject don’t have to spend a long time searching the shelves, Roper said.

“Say a student is looking for books on horses. We type ‘horse’ into our library’s search engine, and it will pull up everything fiction and non-fiction we have that is related to the subject,” she explained.

Desktop computers fill one area of the BCMS library, while the open seating area out front offers Wi-Fi, allowing students to use their laptops for projects.

Today’s school libraries often contain much more than just volumes on the shelf, said Shell.

“In addition to computers, we have printers, scanners, LCD projectors and we have audiobooks, hand-held Palm Pilot-style computers and digital cameras available for checkout. E-books will soon be available for checkout online. There is much more than books and magazines these days,” Shell said.

Scantron machines allow teachers to automatically grade multiple choice and other types of objective tests.

“Let’s say there have been tremendous changes since I was in high school,” Shell said with a smile.

Today’s students, both Shell and Roper said, frequently use computers for papers and reports.

“The students do use the computers for research; however, the teachers also require them to have some print as well as Internet sources for assignments,” Roper said.

The same rule applies at GHS, said Shell.

“We are also trying to make sure they know how to evaluate the material they find, as everything out there on the Internet is not reliable or true. Having access to the Alabama Virtual Library is great as it provides trusted resources,” Shell said.

Roper said she, too, trying to teach students to make the most of the computer as a research tool.

All elementary school classes and high school English classes at BCMS have a set time each week to visit the library.

“We can also schedule class time for research as needed,” Roper said.

While students are often distracted these days by computer games, text messaging and other high-tech diversions, both Shell and Roper believe the pleasure of reading a good book is still alive and well.

“Teens lead such busy lives these days, but when they can find the time, they still like to read. They love a good story – fiction is definitely the most popular type of book we offer,” Shell said.

She does suspect books as we know them will become increasingly less popular, though not necessarily obselete.

“You are seeing devices like Kindle and Sony Reader become more and more popular and ultimately, it will be good for the environment – it will save a lot of trees,” Shell said.

Roper remains optimistic about the future of the bound volume.

“I think books are still going to be around – I think we’ll keep them in print. I know I prefer to read a traditional book instead of something on a computer screen.”

Regardless of how the stories are packaged, Shell believes the power of a good read will never die.

“It’s amazing how human emotions have not really changed through the centuries. An ancient work like ‘Antigone’ still strikes a chord today,” she said.