Access to Print Books? Yes!

In this time of virtual and hybrid learning, are print books still important? My answer is a resounding “yes”!

However, what do you do if your administrator doesn’t “get it”? I received a request for advice from a school librarian who said that her principal has been telling her to get rid of books because everything is online. His reasoning is that kids can do their research using “Google” and they can read “free” books online.

I had expected to advocate for library budgets and positions this year as many school budgets have been cut due to COVID-19 and the slacking economy. For some reason, I had not expected an administrator who did not believe in the value of print books. In 2009, Cushing Academy had famously gotten rid of print books in exchange for an all-digital collection (Antolini 2009). But in 2014, Cushing reversed that decision and hired a new school librarian to balance their collection and restore print resources (Melchior 2016). Isn’t diversity and multiple formats in a school library collection a norm in today’s schools?

The idea of balancing the collection and having access to both print and electronic sources is one supported by AASL’s National School Library Standards. The Learner standards include the standard (V.A.1) that learners read “widely and deeply in multiple formats.” We, as school librarians, understand the need to build diverse collections in multiple formats; but, how do we convince doubting administrators?

The following bullets address some questions and ideas to consider when advocating for access to and budget for print resources:

  • What are your administrator’s main goals or objectives? What are the goals of the school improvement plan? It is always important to frame your advocacy in terms of what is best for the students and how it aligns with the administrator’s objectives or the school improvement plan. For example, my school has a school improvement goal to increase reading achievement; I would tie my advocacy for access to print resources to this goal.
  • Who are your allies? Work with other groups who see the need for access to resources including print books. This includes English language arts (ELA) teachers who want their students to have access to books for choice reading and parents and students who want access to print books. Examples include: the ELA teachers at my school are strong proponents for access to print books and would be willing to approach our administrator about this. Parents recently have asked for print books for their students because they are worried about the amount of time their students are currently spending on screens. These parents would be willing to let the administrator know about their students’ need to access print books. Also, students who prefer print books in my school would be willing to write to my administrator or create a video about their preference.
  • Use data and information to support your advocacy.
    • Use data from the latest School Library Journal spending survey to compare the average budget with your own school library budget (Jacobson 2018).
    • Provide data about students’ preference for print. The latest Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (2019) found that 69 percent of students will always want print books. You can also take a survey of your own students. Do they prefer print or digital for pleasure reading or academic reading? For example, in a sample of 100 students at my school, 64 percent chose a print book and 36 percent chose an e-book for their first choice reading assignment even though e-books would have been the easier format to acquire in our virtual setting.
    • Provide a summary of the studies that show that students’ comprehension is often better with print (Barshay 2019).
    • Include the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement on independent reading, which includes a strong statement in support of access to books and in student choice (NCTE 2019).
    • Provide information from a Pew Research Center report that states 9 out of 10 parents want their children to read print books (Zickuhr 2013).
  • “Gift” your administrator a copy of the book Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp or of the book Book Love by Penny Kittle. Add some sticky notes to the book to highlight important information about book access.

Our students need equitable access to diverse school library collections in multiple formats. It is important for us to speak up and advocate for student access to print books as well as digital resources. What arguments or ideas would you add to the above list? Please add your ideas in the comments.

Works Cited:

Antolini, Tina. 2009. “Digital School Library Leaves Book Stacks Behind.” NPR (Nov. 9).,to%20millions%20of%20digital%20books.

Barshay, Jill. 2019. “Evidence Increases for Reading on Paper Instead of Screens.” The Hechinger Report (Aug. 12).

Jacobson, Linda. 2018. “Big Fish, Small Budget: Insights from SLJ’s Spending Survey.” School Library Journal (Mar 1).

Melchior, Mark. 2016. “Reintroducing Printed Books to the Cushing Academy Library.” Massachusetts School Library Association Forum Newsletter.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). 2019. “Statement on Independent Reading.” Position Statements. 

Scholastic, Inc. 2019. “Access Matters: Reading Role Models & Books.” Kids & Family Reading Report: Finding Their Story. 7th Edition.

Zickuhr, Kathryn. 2013. “In a Digital Age, Parents Value Printed Books for Their Kids” Pew Research Center.

Author: Kathy Lester

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Collection Development

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Thank you for this wealth of advocacy bullet points and the research to back it up. When asked about goals for their students, many administrators forget that the goals for their students are intimately wrapped up with student access to their library and the materials accessed there. Those that want their students to be information literate and to read widely need to understand that to do so requires creating balanced collections that utilize the best of all venues; accessible by all students regardless of their location online or in-person.

    Since authors and publishers have to get paid, there will always be a price tag at some point, and that cost is usually covered by sales. While cash strapped schools might long to be able to use free and open source materials – of which there is a lot – folks also forget that not only is not everything “free” on the great vast internets; not everything is there. Many books have not been digitized, and many never will be.

    There are many solutions to creating vibrant school library collections, all of which include a mix of print, electronic, and media. The Cushing Academy library story provides an excellent example and the experience of what happens when you ditch the print.

    Reminding administrators who forget these things includes reminding them that the value of these collections comes from the curation, collection, promotion, and instruction by the School Librarian and the school library team. It’s sad that we are still working with administrators who will not take the time to see how librarians and the libraries they administer fit into the big picture of student education.

  2. Thank you for the post, Kathy. I second everything you and Connie noted.

    I think it is critical that all school librarians and educators, including administrators, read the research referenced in Jill Barshay’s The Hechinger Report article, which you cited. This is essential information if we are not only focused on delivering resources but also committed to ensuring readers comprehend what they read. Quoted below.

    AASL’s own “The School Librarian’s Role in Reading Position Statement” is also a rich resource for engaging in this conversation with decision-makers:

    from Jill Barshay’s The Hechinger Report article:

    “The excessive confidence of screen readers (with regard to their comprehension) is important, (researcher Virginia) Clinton said, because people who overestimate their abilities are likely to put in less effort. The less effort a person puts into a reading passage, the less they are likely to comprehend. That’s because reading comprehension, like all learning, isn’t easy and requires work.

    Genre also matters. When Clinton separated out the studies that had students read narrative fiction, there was no benefit to paper over screens. (So, go ahead and read Jane Austen on a Kindle.) But for nonfiction information texts, the advantage for paper stands out.”

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