Legacy Publishing, School Libraries, and the Fight for E-Content

January 16, 2014

The world of e-content has so far focused on academic librarians, who were first to immerse their institutions in digital repositories and open access, and public librarians, who struggled to fold the new e-content market into their already crowded offerings. But Chris Harris (my predecessor as the E-Content blogger and director of the School Library System for New York’s Genesee Valley Educational Partnership) has been a voice for a too-often-forgotten or overlooked segment of librarianship: our beleaguered school libraries.

I say beleaguered because I’m really worried about school libraries. The pattern in many states in our nation is this: School media center librarians move along or retire, are replaced with library tech folks, who are replaced with volunteers, who are then . . . not replaced.

At least in Colorado, school library collections—science books, history books, travel books—are not just “slightly” out of date by an edition or two. They are more than a decade out of date, according to data gathered by the Library Research Center.

School spending has shifted from library collections to tech lab equipment, which has even less of a shelf life than a book. You can buy a lot of books for the price of just one Mac.

Moreover, it is absurd, in 2014, that any child has to lug around a backpack crammed with a dozen outdated, 4-pound textbooks. Students should be carrying a single device with focused, class-specific chapters, and with a stream of articles and audio and video clips delivered just when they need them. That same device should interface with all school assignments, with local curricular packages produced by local talent, with in-class tests (and scores), with running teacher feedback, and with books that represent the true frontier of e-publications— which some children’s publishers (like Rosen) are already pioneers in creating.

Why hasn’t this vision been realized?

It’s not because the technology doesn’t exist. It’s because the established order—a few big publishers who make a whale of a profit from the status quo—like things just fine the way they are.

Let’s call them what they are: legacy publishers. They represent the way things used to be. But they don’t represent what’s next.

At any rate, a tip of the hat to Chris Harris for consistently articulating these issues—and thinking ahead.