by Paul Shaviv

Recently, I was approached by a Foundation dedicated to perpetuating the work of an internationally known, respected and very prolific historian, who passed away a year or so ago.
The question was “How can we get X’s books into schools?”
I have to say that I have yet to give a considered response.
And although many of his works are available in e-book format, my hesitation is because I am not sure that any school libraries are still really interested in books.
That generated a second question – is there even still such a thing as the ‘School Library’? Does it still exist?  What is its future?
We are in the middle of a total cultural revolution – the transition from print-based culture to digitally-based culture.  The effects of this are certainly comparable in scale to the invention of printing.  The internet is replacing the book as society’s repository of culture and knowledge.
The School Library is part of this changing revolution.  Broadly speaking, a number of things seem to be happening simultaneously:
  • Libraries are becoming tech centres – School libraries are becoming centers of online expertise.  They provide access to ever-increasing online resources, of increasing sophistication.  The school library may subscribe to restricted sites inaccessible to individuals, and be linked in to wide information networks.  Librarians provide guidance on how to access and use them.  Space, time and budgets are being ceded from print materials to online and digital resources and equipment.  Students and staff access the library on their personal computers or other devices from remote locations, at any time.   You don’t have to visit the library to use it…..
  • Change in the role of the Librarian/fall in numbers – data shows that school librarians are reinventing themselves as digital resource experts.  As well as offering help in locating online resources for students and staff, they are the ‘go-to’ resource in schools for training students on net etiquette, on teaching how to discriminate between websites, on presenting online references and other web and digital protocols.  They spend less and less time on books (and buy fewer and fewer).  At the same time, the numbers of professional school librarians are falling.  In many public school districts they are being cut (is there less work to be done in the ‘digital’ library than in the print library?)
  • ‘Collaborative learning space’ – responding to both technical change and changes in pedagogy, the library as the haunt of the individual silent student huddled over books is giving way to the library as the setting for small-group projects and collaborative workgroups.  Where libraries are being refitted, or new libraries being built, the designs reflect this and the other changes.
So – here are some (tentative) conclusions:
The traditional, book-lined, quiet School library is disappearing (no judgement on this, as a veteran bibliophile, but it is reality….)
It is possible to see the ‘library’ function splitting into two –
  • The ‘librarian’s’ office, now the ‘Information Center’, where the librarian acts as the expert webmaster of the school library web.  (Will each school need its own web – or can one central website serve many similar schools?  This office can be anywhere, even off-site.)  The librarian will facilitate access to general resources and databases, assemble resource links for specific classes and projects – much as a traditional librarian would assemble book resources to link with ongoing curricula — and respond to student and staff enquiries.  This function may be even further decentralized, with each department or discipline (Math, literature, Science etc.) having their own specialist ‘Information coordinator’ post of responsibility.
  • A central area for student research, providing facilities for students to work individually and in groups on assignments and projects – including multimedia projects.  This may be staffed on rota by teachers filling ‘duty’ periods, or in large schools by full-time assistants.  The center would be fully technically equipped and wired, so that students have access to comprehensive online resources.  (But the expert librarian does not need to be in that physical space; and I don’t know how many books will be in that room…)
Judaic studies:
One of the unknowns is the impact of this on Judaic Studies, and the ‘Jewish bookshelf’.
There are huge Jewish resources on the internet, and in many schools the Judaic Studies teachers are among the best users of technology – perhaps as a way of overcoming the lack of textbooks and learning materials in these subjects.  In most respects, and for many Judaic courses, the future of the ‘Jewish library’ will be similar to that of the general library.
But not entirely.
For text-based traditional learning, and the Bet Midrash bookshelves, still central to many Jewish school programs, several factors come into play:
  • Printed book culture is almost a supreme value in traditional Jewish learning.   It shows no sign of being replaced by a screen any time soon.  The traditional rabbinic text format of folio page, surrounded by commentary of often miniscule print [in parenthesis – a masterpiece of typography] lends itself to print and paper, although some web sites have adapted the super-commentary format in user-friendly ways.
  • Every rabbinic text is available online, though, and it remains to be seen how far the rising generation(s) will adopt computer-based resources for the traditional shiur itself,  as opposed to revision and preparation. It is definitely possible that ‘intermediate technology’ – some form of ‘electronic paper’ – will replace the ‘sefer’ for many uses.  I also see lightweight tablet computers getting larger and larger. with screens approaching the size of the daf.
  •  The ‘Shabbat factor’ is an issue…….
  • In more intensively Orthodox schools, there is resistance to computers and – especially – internet access.  Whatever happens at home behind closed doors, computer-based education is not on the agenda in most Yeshivot or Seminaries. The Bet Midrash library still has a life.
  1.    Are you thinking ahead about the future of your school library?  Note that parents and students will increasingly look to see whether your school is ‘cutting edge’ and tech-friendly in all respects.

2.    Is your librarian being given PD opportunities to become the online resources expert on your staff?  Are your teachers being trained to use online resources properly?

 3.    Is your school library website being developed to be a central reference vehicle for your students and staff?

4.    Do you need to develop a three-year plan and budget in order to effect the changes which technology is bringing to school libraries?

 (5.  What are you going to do with the books?!)


Paul Shaviv is a consultant. He has particularly specialized in management, organization, and process. Find more at