By Donna Alden, Teacher Librarian
“Books are so …static” noted one of my colleagues, with a general tone of dismissal. Indeed, books are “static”. Books have no hyperlinks to take you further into a topic, interactive options, cross references, or for that matter, advertisements, or any other attractions and distractions. Other than the attractions and distractions, online sources of information are often the best choice because they present various layerings of information-, i.e. true pictures of knowledge and information- complex and fluid, and often, revised for currency, not finite, not static.
But is static always a problem? I think for some students in some situations, static is what is required. This may be why some come into the library requesting books on topics readily available online. Sometimes a successful online search is a technical challenge a student hasn’t accomplished, and they’ve given up on the finding a good digital source. Other times, I discover it’s a problem with a student’s search strategy, or that the search results are at too high (or low) an academic level. But there are occasions where students’ information needs require what for my colleague was undesirable- i.e. they need “static”. Some students, sometimes, need the option of information that stands still, and permits thoughtful processing, understanding, and reflection. No invisible buttons will cause the page to jump, disappear, morph into something uncalled for, invite to view a video, or alert to a low battery. Sometimes there’s a need to hold open a two-page spread on a topic a student is struggling to understand, or just finds fascinating, and take whatever time is needed. Viewing a table of contents to see how information is organized and related contributes to access and understanding.
Taking time to read and view information and images presented in a well-designed publication may be the best resource at the time, and static the desired attribute. If, on the other hand, “static” is used to describe books because they are outdated, poorly presented or erroneous, then there’s a need to discard- clear the shelf, weed the collection, and refresh with relevant, quality publications. But dismissing books in general, as static, is short-sighted and too simplistic.
Once again, I believe it boils down to choice and selection, not an either/or of online or books, but of what’s best for that student at that time, during every learning journey. At times, static is just the ticket needed to connect the dots, and deepen understanding. We need to continue to offer students good quality print resources- books, in particular- along with teaching them how best to search for, evaluate and select online sources of information.