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Libraries provide E-ducation

Somewhere, Melvil Dewey is rolling in his grave. The father of librarianship would scarcely recognize today's school libraries.

Libraries have evolved from a place to store and read books into a high-tech intersection of information and media.

Admittedly, the second burial of Mr. Dewey is a bit premature. His system is still being utilized, but in a new digital format that is just the latest step in the sweeping changes in school libraries since the advent of the personal computer.

South Point High School is among all the Lawrence County schools on the frontline of this technological revolution. They are one of the first buildings to be automated through SCOCA/INFOhio, with a program called SIRSI which eliminates a card catalog in favor of a digital version. The software also makes that new e-catalog available from any Web-equipped computer.

Janet Oliver was a teacher for 25 years before becoming the South Point High library media specialist three years ago. She coordinated the new project, just the latest step in the high-tech evolution of her school's library.

"Technology has profoundly affected our school libraries," Oliver said. "For instance, with the Web-based catalog, if a student is at home, they can get on our Web page, look for books for a project they're working on, click on an icon to put it in a 'Book Bag' then print out a list and bring it to me in the library the next morning."

Make new friends, keep the old

Today's students can utilize the Internet for much of their research, bypassing the World Book for Google. But that doesn't necessarily mean the children are on easy street, according to Oliver.

"I think that today, it's almost more difficult, in some ways, for students to do research because they have so much information at their fingertips," Oliver said. "The challenge that we have as librarians today is making sure that students know how to find the right information, to evaluate that information."

Harriette Ramsey has been the media specialist at Burlington Elementary for, in her words, "a long time."

She has dealt with the glut of information on the Internet by teaching her students a little respect for hard copy.

"I do encourage them to use the books and encyclopedias, because I want them to see both sides of it," Ramsey said. "Some of these kids all they know are computers and the Internet. If the computers are down or something, you always have a book that you can get your information from."

Were those the good days?

Though computers may lack some of the quaint charm of musty books, neither of these long-time educators seemed to pine for the good old days. According to Oliver, electronic access has allowed local smaller school libraries to compete with the big boys.

"It's been a big benefit to rural schools, to poorer districts because we can't afford to buy all of the resources that students really need," Oliver said.

Before her school began checking books out to students with computers, Ramsey had to sign each book out individually, and keep a file to see what books were overdue. Now that she and her students have had the convenience of digital checkout, she couldn't dream of going back to the old system.

"Oh goodness, yes, it has made things easier!" Ramsey said, laughing. "It was complicated getting started, but now it's a whole lot easier. It's definitely improved. The only downside is that when the computer is down or our server goes out, no books get checked out."

As much as the resources of school libraries have changed over the years, just as different is the perception of what the library is and can be. It is now not just a place for books, but an integral center of technology and information for schools.

"The days of the quiet library are hopefully in the past. The library today is, and should be, the hub of the school," Oliver said. "The library has become the happening place to be!"