Randall Payleitner


School Libraries and the Most Important Thing a Kid Can Do to Improve Their Life

I recently came across an instance (and since then, a few more instances) of a school district announcing plans to change their school librarians' focus away from books/reading and changing them into "Innovation Specialists." Uhhhhhh. What?!

This trainwreck of an idea is still unfolding. It seems, though, that some of these districts' plans continue to be to make libraries less about books and more about technology, gathering, and “innovation.”  So, here are my thoughts on this idea...

Closing and/or repurposing school libraries away from books is just about the least responsible thing a school district could do. Here’s why:


(1) School libraries offer an equal playing field for all children.

Kids whose parents have lots of expendable income will most certainly already have hundreds of books in their homes (see below stats)… If school libraries focus more on technology and less on books, then the kids who lose the most are the ones who don’t have unfettered access to books anywhere else.


(2) Any parent worth their weight in iPads will tell you their kids need less screen time… yet most of our kids are swimming in it.

Parents, we’re culpable. Get your kids some books and stop pacifying them with YouTube. Unless a school district’s goal is to placate their children into swiping/liking/bleary-eyed potatoes, more should be done to help kids explore the land beyond the screen. The land where smarts are gained, exploration becomes the goal, and imaginations soar. Books actually make kids’ (and adults’) brains work as active participants in the gap-filling, knowledge-gaining, and learning… rather than doing the work for them. Innovation happens in our brains, not on our screens.


(3) Kids need books more than a classroom lecture.

With a stack of books, every kid can find something to learn. Classroom lectures require the lecturer to keep pace at the slowest rate necessary with a room full of 25 kids. Kids need access to books so they can learn at their own pace. Teachers teaching stuff is important, but training kids to read and love books is even more critical. The most important thing a teacher can do is teach a kid to love reading books. If a kid can read, chooses to read, and loves to read… she has been taught to fish and the world will be hers for the taking.


(4) Kids need access to a wide array of curated books so they can explore worlds they didn’t even know existed.

The Internet is great for searching for something you already know you’re looking for… But what about actual discovery? Not so much. I know a kid who had never been in a library until he was just under two years old… he ran in wide-eyed and had the hugest grin on his face like: “This place is heavenly, I can’t believe this many books can exist in one place.” The possibilities of a library are endless for a still-forming brain. I’d bet all my screens that young (pre-addicted) kids would rather be at the library than thumbing around on your phone—give them a chance.


(5) Don’t worry about kids not learning technology.

Unless you live in a wi-fi-less commune, your kid will know how to use the Internet and technology just fine. If your worry is that your kid is reading too many books and might be behind on their technology skills, let me assure you, you’re doing it exactly right. The technology/screen-time monster will eat as much time as you give him… So make sure to protect a big chunk of time from that monster for book reading. I think a library would be a good place for that.


(6) Kids must be trained up in the way they should go.

That’s actually the parents’ whole job. Kids don't do a good job of raising themselves. Books are one of the best tools you can give your kids to do life better (see below stats). The earlier you get your kids hooked on books and thinking for themselves, the better off they’ll be. Read to them at home as much as humanly possible, and make sure your tax dollars are spent wisely on books in your local schools. It’s our responsibility (moms, dads, teachers, grandparents) to help our kids make good decisions. On the flipside, conditioning them to be reliant on technology for entertainment, pacification, education, and thinking will only train their minds for dependence… rather than life-long learning.


What then can we do?

  • If there are any kids in your life who don’t have at least 20 kids books in their home, go buy them a pile of books right now. It’s the best investment you could possibly make.
  • Put books all over your house. Let your kids find and discover them.
  • Make sure that every kid in your life has a library card by the time they are four years old.
  • If your local school district doesn’t honor books and libraries and their critical role in the development of children… Get new people in charge or move somewhere else.
  • Read more books yourself.


Further Reading:

Who Doesn’t Read Books in America.

  • 83% of people who make over $75k in a year have read a book in the past year.
  • 40% of people who didn’t finish high school didn’t read a book in the last year.

The Importance of Having Books in the Home.

  • Children growing up in homes with many books get three more years of schooling than children from bookless homes.
  • It’s just as big of an advantage for a kid to have books in her home as it is for her to have university-educated parents vs. having unschooled parents.
  • It’s twice as important for a kid to have books in his home as it is for him to have a professional father rather than an unskilled father.

How Many Books Does the Average Person Read?

  • Most Americans read about four books per year.
  • 80% of 18-29 year olds reported reading at least one book in the past year. 
  • CEOs read 4-5 books per month.

What More Screen Time Does to Kids.

  • The average 8-18 year old consumes more than 7 hours per day of screen time. It was less than 5 hours per day just ten years ago.
  • Screens make kids more obese, more aggressive, and worse sleepers.


These are dark times indeed if minimizing the importance of books (and increasing screen time) is what our school districts are even considering! Write me if you know of any other school districts doing this and/or if you know of any school districts doubling down on the importance of books.