computer lecture textbookI was a school librarian (AKA teacher librarian, library media teacher…the list goes on) for over 10 years. In California for grades 7-12 that means you are also the defacto textbook administrator. This, of course, is a fulltime job in and of itself with schools of over 1,000 students and each needing their own textbook for each class and some classes changing every few weeks and add to that student transience the job never ends. There is not just the checking out of books there is the ordering, the billing for loss and damage the shelving and unshelving, rebinding, the scheduling for class pickup…suffice it to say it is a nightmare and can take up the majority of your time. Personally I think this is part of the reason teacher librarians have become extinct in the State of California. How can they possibly do their jobs when they are weighted down with all of this clerical nonsense, and yet it continues and pink slips abound because administration, looking for budget cutting measures, do not see the job the librarian is supposed to be doing only the one forced upon them that does not need to be done by a credentialed teacher (and oh yes, the teacher librarian is often the most highly credentialed teacher on campus). The good that could be done is lost on the California school system particularly with the knowledge we have that a library that is well-funded and staffed raises achievement . Just another blindspot that puts more weight on the classroom teacher to be responsible for every single thing that students spit out on the high-stakes tests. The whole thing is ridiculous and I could rant all day on this subject alone but this is just the prelude.

In an effort to combat the high cost of textbooks our governor Scwarzenegger has just decreed that as of Fall 2009 electronic textbooks should begin their implementation, he even wrote a charming editorial that was run in the Mercury News. On its face doesn’t that sound swell? He says that this will be cheaper, easier, better on students backs and the wave of the future. As a former school librarian I wish this was realistic because it could save the jobs of my colleagues who still have positions in schools, heck it might even restore axed teacher librarian positions and allow students and teachers the advantage of having the expertise of this master teacher in their midst. But I am afraid Arnold has not thought this through. First of all California has an adoption process for textbooks. You can’t just choose one willy nilly this summer and implement it this fall. Every 7 years a subject gets their new books and in year 6 the committees convene to go over all of the publishers options. It is a long arduous process that allows textbooks to be purchased that best fit that school district. Okay, let’s say we throw out the time tested system and take whatever e-textbooks come our way because we are hungry for change. How exactly are the students going to read these electronic books? Public education in our country is “free”. The student can’t be told to pay for their textbook, they are gratis to use and are to be returned when class is over for the year, so we cannot make them pay for the e-reader. And please tell me which school district has the funds to purchase and maintain over 1,000-4,000 e-readers per school? I can fix a damaged textbook but an e-reader? I think not. How do you handle loss and theft? How do you keep an extra couple of copies for every class for those students that forget or need one temporarily? I know that I personally cannot afford any of the e-readers out today and I am one single middle class person (and technology loving librarian I might add, oh how I wish I could).

One might say that the publisher should come out with the reader for their textbook. Well, what if each subject area goes with a different publishers e-textbook? Then we have a different reader for each class? And let’s mention how sturdy the reader would have to be. Nothing survives in a 14 year olds backpack, seriously. The joy of the paper textbook is that damage is only surface deep and students are not thrilled with the idea of keeping them so they usually get returned. With a piece of technology that holds their unloved e-textbook (as opposed to their beloved cellphone and/or iPod) there is no end to the tortures that can be imposed. I just don’t see it. I commend the thought but I am frustrated by the lack of foresight.

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