Today I Read…Return of the Library Dragon

Return of the Library DragonToday I read Return of the Library Dragon, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael P. White.

Miss Lotty, the beloved librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is retiring! The children are worried, but Miss Lotty promises that the new librarian will read to the little kids and dress up in costumes and take care of the books just like she did.

But there are strange things happening in the library. Mike Krochip, the new guy from IT, has taken away all the books! He says it’s going to be a cybrary! With ebooks and MePods and lots of computers! The children say they’d like their books back, but some of those gadgets are pretty cool…Oh no! Miss Lotty isn’t putting up with THIS nonsense! Everyone look out! LOTTA SCALES THE LIBRARY DRAGON IS BACK!

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This is a nice story about the need for balance between library traditions like paper books and costumes and the need for innovative technologies. The children explain to Mike Krochip (warning! bad puns!) that paper books have a valued physical presence–that you can share books with friends, that you can read the same book with your grandmother that her grandmother read to her, that different books look and feel different. As Milo says “If you’ve never really loved a book, maybe nobody can explain it to you.” But Mike points out that you can have 10,000 books in one device, and a fourth-grader says that the MePod is awesome. Molly, the new librarian and an old friend of Miss Lotty, says it best “I love technology too. But our kids need a library where they can UNPLUG, for the love of books.” The last page of the book shows Molly using a computer to check out a book, and Mike Krochip wearing a funny hat and reading a book to a couple of children. There is a sign on the circulation desk saying “Tomorrow is Technology Free Tuesday- Unplug it or Lose it!” This implies that during the rest of the week, technology is welcome in Molly’s library, but sometimes it’s time to unplug and go offline. Apparently this is a sequel–now I think I have to track down the first book, The Library Dragon.

There’s a lot of tension in the library world right now over technology and how much and which kinds and how to integrate it into library services. Most librarians that I talk to are really enthusiastic about it–the theme for the OLA Super Conference next year is A Universe of Possibilities (which I actually proposed at the 2013 conference, though I think I used the phrase An Out of This World Library Experience). Technology can do some really cool things–TumbleBooks lets kids read along with ebooks, SmallDemons is neat reader’s advisory tool, I’ve talked about my love for my Kobo, things like the 50 Book Pledge and Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter, podcasting, WordPress and other blogs–it’s so easy now to share your world. And isn’t that the point of books? To share what you think with other people? To teach, to entertain, to take a journey and say to the reader “Come with me–let’s see where we end up?” I do love my books, and I miss them terribly now that most of them are packed away in storage until I have the space for them again (and I’m sure that they miss me too), but it is so convenient to have so many books on my laptop, that I can carry around on my ereader so I always have something to read with me. But it’s not the first edition copy of Triptych that my friend J.M. Frey signed for me. It’s not the copy of Peter David’s Q-in-Law that I had to tape the cover back on because I read it so many times. It’s not the bright cover of Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein that snagged my attention this past weekend at the bookstore. It’s not the copy of James Blish’s Spock Must Die! that I might have borrowed from my mother about 20 years ago and kinda sorta deliberately forgot to give back. It’s definitely not the 2 handwritten pages of family births, deaths and marriages from the mid-1800s that my aunt found in her basement last year. And technology definitely won’t the same as plunking my baby niece down in my lap and letting her chew on a board book of fairy tales–she doesn’t understand the stories yet, but one day she will.

There’s some thought that technology will replace books–there was recently an article in the Toronto Star about a boy who can’t sign his name to his passport because kids are no longer being taught handwriting in schools, just typing. A couple of years ago the Windsor Catholic School Board decided to get rid of their libraries and turn them into a learning commons area where kids could do research and engage in digital literacy. The kids and the parents protested and the decision was reversed. What the future of the library should be is a hotly debated subject in the public sphere right now, and all of the people involved are very passionate about their opinions. Return of the Library Dragon is a good explanation of the debate for both kids and adults–enthusiasm and moderation, tradition and innovation balanced. Just beware the librarian when you threaten the library–I hear she’s a real dragon!

 

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