Two things are needed when a child is given his or her first research assignment in elementary school or junior high: an active curiosity (usually no problem) and a well-stocked library (a problem in all-too-many American schools).
Experts in the field complain it has been decades, in many parts of the country, since school budgets set aside funds to replenish and refresh school libraries. The result is thousands of schools with tired collections dating back to the '60s and '70s.
Is this really a concern in the age of the Internet, when more and more classrooms and libraries are equipped to give kids access to reams of Web-based knowledge?
That question demands a fresh look at the book. It remains the handiest, most-efficient form of organized knowledge. Its physical form, however, is in transition.
The Web, for all its marvels, dishes up a million subjects. Search engines help. They bring related stuff together. You sort it out. Find a book (on a shelf or on the Web), and if the writer's any good at the craft, the sorting has already been done.
Digital technology is rapidly bringing on the age of electronic books that are as easily readable as print-on-paper volumes. But refining the technology and making it widely available could take years. Traditional books and libraries shouldn't be shorted in the meantime.
Kids need books. They need good models for organized and creative thinking. School libraries help meet that need, especially for kids who have few books at home.
The aging, often-sparse collections in libraries should still be rejuvenated, including electronically where possible. Local school districts shouldn't pinch library budgets. States should direct aid toward libraries. And private citizens can help through book drives or donations.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society