The niche of books

One thing is for sure. When you work with a powerful team like Tara and Kim you have conversations that end up turning into a lot of blog posts. 🙂

I have a sticky note I keep on my desk with ideas. I have an idea book that I keep in my backpack, and I have thoughts in my head that keep me awake at night. All ideas and thoughts that poor Tara and Kim have to listen to whether they want to or not. 😉

At a team meeting, with the above mentioned, a couple weeks ago we got on the topic of books. Now I’m sure I’m going to get some push back on this one, but I’m hoping it helps me to frame what I’m thinking (and it might be wrong) a little clearer…so please….feel free to push back.

Up until recently books are what we have known. They were the holders of knowledge, they were the all mighty, the all knowing. If you wanted to know something you went to a book. If you wanted to drift off into a fantasy world, you read a book. If you wanted to heart felt story…you could find it in a book. It a book didn’t have the answer you went to a divine power.

Today….we just go to Google

Books are great. I love them on planes, on the beach and by the pool. Yes, I think books have a niche in today’s world. I just think it’s smaller then what we believe it to be.

Simple questions:

When was the last time you read a book?

When was the last time you read a web page?

When was the last time you read a letter addressed to you in the mail? (A real hand written letter)

When was the last time you read an e-mail?

When was the last time you looked up a phone number in the phone book?

When was the last time you looked up a recipe in a recipe book?

When was the last time you used an encyclopedia?

When was the last time you went to a book before the web for non-fiction/relevant information?

When was the last time you used an IM client (chat)?

Now, take these questions and go ask them to your class, to a kid on the street, or the kid sitting next to you. Are the answers the same? Different? Why?

In a world of niche markets I believe that books have a place, but I think we need to take a step back and find where that place is. I’ve been asking these same questions to myself the past couple of weeks. Then I walk into classrooms to see students reading books for hours on end.

Now, I have nothing against this, just that I have a feeling that the skill of reading a book is practiced much more than say the skill of reading a chat or reading a web page. Yet we spend more time in society today reading chats, web pages and e-mails than we do books. Now I don’t have any research to support this (please add links if you find some) but I have read the Long Tail (audiobook version) and understand that newspaper subscriptions have been in a steady decline. That public libraries are seeing less and less book check-outs and more people coming to use the computers. I witnessed this particular one this summer in a 4 hour visit to the local public library because they had free WiFi. Of the 20 people in the library only one (a seven year old) was browsing the books. Everyone else was there for the free WiFi or to use the library computers.

I do believe that books are still important to our society today, although I do see them evolving with devices like the Kindle. But until that becomes mainstream paper is still the way to go. There is something in holding a paper book, the way it bends, smells, and reads on a sandy beach that just can’t be replaced with my Palm.

At the same time I see a growing disconnect between what and how we are teaching students to read and where we spend our time reading. Are our classrooms changing with the times? Should we be allowing forcing students to learn to read a web-page, an e-mail, a chat? Should we force them like we force them to sit and read a book for 30 minutes of SSR a day to do the same with digital print?

Are we doing this in our classrooms?

Is this a priority?

Are we doing our students a disservice?

Is all of this over stated because students will learn these skills in spite of us and our education system?

OK…your turn!

(I have to link to Mark Ahlness’ SSR 2.0 post every time I talk about this. Cause over a year later, I’m still thinking about this!)