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Books, Libraries, Kids

Here is an interesting little newspaper piece out of Rapid City. It’s in the Rapid City Journal, and it reports on budgets and usage in the district middle-school library system.

The headline is “Rapid City middle schoolers may be reading less,” and the prime measurement in the article is book checkouts. In the last year, it says, “middle-school students checked out about 30,000 fewer books.” One librarian calculates the reduction as 10 books that didn’t get into the hands of each student in the area.

The librarians have no trouble pinpointing the cause: budget reductions. After the Rapid City board of education cut $4-million from the district’s operating budget, the library system restructured. Middle-school libraries closed one day per week, and the amount of money devoted to books sank for the second consecutive year. Some middle-school librarians had to split their time between middle-school libraries and elementary-school libraries, and one of them acknowledged that the book-circulating slide has hit the elementary-school libraries as well.

This year the library fund for materials reached $200,000, but only $75,000 went to books. The other $125,000 went to buying software. (As for other technology costs, the article mentions that a single light bulb in one of the new Promethium Board “interactive white boards with a projection unit used in classrooms,” costs $365.) Added to that, the libraries had to get rid of many older copies because of the lead content in the books, and they don’t have the funds to replace them.

There is, of course, a giant force in play that goes unmentioned in the article, and it’s a difficult one for librarians.

Kids just don’t read books as much as they used to. The diversion menu is larger, with lots of screen tools and toys to fill their leisure hours. Books are cheaper, and free when checked out of the library, and they have more educational value than screen hours, but no matter. Kids like technology, and printed pages appear oh so bland and boring.

The system corresponds to the trend, now spending $5 per student for books and $8 for technology. Expect that gap to widen in the coming years.

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