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Reactionary librarians aren't cute

I am having a very negative reaction to Travis Jonker's article "Fine. I Got an Ereader. Now What?: A newbie to digital reading gets his first Kindle" that appears in this month's School Library Journal.

While the personal narrative is cleverly written and certainly expresses the doubts, fears, and experiences many librarians have encountered in the move to e-books, I wonder why it has taken so long for Mr. Jonker to finally experience the e-reading experience. Why is SLJ making a cause celebre out of being a reactionary instead of being a leader in what may be the transition that either saves or eliminates school libraries?

Illustration removed at the request of Phyllis Mandell at SLJ. SLJ must be a little thin-skinned. 1-31-12

E-books have been in the professional conscious now for at least 15 years. The Kindle was first released in 2007 and there were e-readers pre-dating it. Heck, I even published an article in SLJ about e-books and their impact on libraries in 2004 and a column on the topic in 1995.

So yeah, I'm probably over-reacting and I'd be laughing hysterically had the subject been how a librarian has just now tried a new hairstyle that is not a bun. Had Mr. Jonker published this bit of nonsense in his personal journal, I'd a given it a polite smile, shook my head, and quietly thanked some higher power he is not my own grandchildren's librarian.

But SLJ owes it to its readers and our precarious profession to celebrate librarians who move us into the future in practical and positive ways. Do we really need our professional journals re-enforcing this stereotype of Luddite librarians. Seems others do that quite well for us already. New editor Miller, I hope this story was already in the pipeline before you took the helm.

Reactionary librarians aren't cute -  and they are positively dangerous. 

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Reader Comments (6)

Yes. What you said. I wrote a reaction as well that I think pulled too many punches.

To his credit, Mr. Jonkers tweeted my response but didn't have much to say other than a bland anonymous comment.

I'll be curious to see the letters that come in.


January 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

I'm the author of the SLJ article you mention. As a longtime reader of The Blue Skunk, I appreciate your honest reaction to the piece. You make a lot of points worth reflecting upon - thanks for sharing your take.

January 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Interesting... I found Jonker's article to be witty and frankly refreshing. I follow his blog and find him to be very current in his thinking and creative in his approach to modern children's literature and literature of years past. He has a cool weekly feature in which he updates a past Newberry winner with a more modern cover. He's pretty talented in his artistic design, in my opinion.

Since we are in the business of freedom of information and freedom of expression, I think it's perfectly fine--heck... even boldly refreshing--to hear someone who has the chutzpah to admit that he hasn’t completely jumped on the eReader bandwagon, just to be in the "cool kids" club.

If you are hesitant, so be it. True, you cannot deny that these devices are popular and that many of your patrons may prefer them, but you don't have to lie and pretend that you've gone whole hog if, in fact, you prefer the printed medium. Do you need to be knowledgeable about eReaders? Absolutely! But, having experimented with some eReaders in my library, I can honestly say that for my elementary school population, many of my patrons gravitated to printed books over digital books over time. Like so many other things in our life, this issue revolves around choice, preference, and personal selection--the exact ideals that we claim to promote above all others. I personally applaud Jonker's candor in professing his reluctance.

January 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy Long

I would imagine that article made many librarians who are still sitting on the sidelines feel better about their choice to wait. We have to make this decision based on our students, our community, and more, and I'd wager there are a lot of schools out there who haven't invested a nickel in any ebook or device platform at all. Those of us who have are like pioneers forging a new trail, and we are sharing our experiences to make it easier for those who follow. There is good news and bad news with the reminder that we are pioneers. The good is we are learning something everyday. The bad is that at times mistakes become painfully obvious. (But the good of that is our friends and colleagues who are watching our implementation can avoid the same pitfalls we make.) Basically to fail is to learn, so it does have merit and redemption.

Perhaps Doug is being a little harsh with SLJ and this contributor, but truly when I reflect on the technology and even ebooks and ereader articles from this publication, this one does seem dated---like it should have been in last January's journal instead of this one. But on the flip side (oh yikes, this makes me so two-faced!!), as I stated earlier, we are all at different points on this continuum. So it was right on target for many. I guess this means Doug and his school district are way ahead of where the author is in a journey to embrace and/or experience digital formats for reading. I would also wager many of us are at varying points in the journey. So while Doug finds issues with its datedness, and even I do to some degree, there is nothing wrong with others being right where the author of the article is. I'm just happy to be on the frontlines instead of watching on the side, wondering what to do, and in the end feeling left behind or worse, left out. I'm GLAD I can speak to my patrons and fellow colleagues with personal experience.

It doesn't make me feel like I'm in with the "cool kids." I just feel significantly more informed, especially when I see the ebook/ereader issue as becoming more prevalent and not really going away. Nope this fad is here to stay for now. Consider Apple's iBook textbook initiative just introduced in the last few days. Seems the writing is on the wall. And if we as librarians want to stay, we need to be with it knowledge wise, and in my mind it means having a solid understanding AND experience with ebooks and ereaders. We must stay relevant. Dragging our feet on something like this is dangerous and downright risky business. Would you rather by a critical part of the instructional team--seen as a team player who can bring knowledge and experience to the table--and even provide experience for your students, teachers, admin, and entire school community, or a RIF (reduction in force) waiting to happen because you bring little or nothing to the table?

Yes, while the article gives those an affirmation as to why they are not an early adopter, it is not license to pretend ebooks and ereaders are not going to eventually impact your school and ultimately your job in some format. Be proactive, not reactive.

January 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Jo Nelson

I feel the need to confess that my school library does not own any e-readers yet. That does not mean buying e-books and e-readers is absent from my list of things to do or that I do not feel that e-readers and books are important.

It is incredibly important for school librarians to have a working knowlege of e-readers even if they do not make personal use of these devices and even if their library does not own any. I personally own an iPad. I can show you how to use the Kindle app, use ibooks and I have purposely familiarized myself with other e-readers. In partnership with our State Library, I hosted a "Technology Petting Zoo" for my faculty. The "Petting Zoo" featured e-readers, iPads and cameras.

A fewl students proudly brought their new e-readers to school with them after winter break to ask me questions about their devices. Of course, their librarian would be able to help them with their new e-reader! A couple of my students were upset. "I got an e-reader for Christmas, but my family doesn't have a credit card. How can I get books?" Another student got a Dell tablet, "How do I get books onto this thing?" she asked. Who else would a student ask? The librarian! We are now planning our first e-reader club. Students will bring their own devices and we will share tips and tricks with eachother. I regularly share free e-book titles with my students and faculty.

Budget and staffing challenges currently make purchasing e-readers and e-books something I am just getting ready to do. I am depending on the trailblazers to help me make the best choices in the near future. I know it would be a disservice to my students and faculty if I chose to remain uninformed about e-readers.

January 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Tazerouti

Hi Ninja,

Jonker's certainly has the right to feel anyway he wishes personally about e-books and readers, but to have SLJ promote this POV is detrimental to the profession.


Hi Travis,

OK, so now I feel guilty criticizing someone who is obviously a nice person.

Like I said in the post, I certainly appreciated the quality of your writing and could even identify (about five years ago) with many of the misgivings you have about your move to e-readers. And my main complaint wasn't with you but with SLJ's editorial choice to put this front and center. By doing so, SLJ has enabled foot-dragging librarians to continue to avoid the responsibility of helping patrons learn to use new digital resources well. I just don't think that's something the profession can afford.

Thanks for the bravery for writing both the article and responding to this post.

Oh, I've drawn heat from a few SLJ articles myself, especially those on copyright and fixed schedules.


Hi Betsy,

I certainly found Mr. Jonker's article witty, but rather tired and dated in the ideas he expresses. I am sure his expertise in children's lit is wonderful, so why didn't SLJ publish something on that topic written by him?

I see in our own school libraries that the position is valued less and less by literary expertise (as sad as that may be), and more and more for the librarian's technical skills - providing information and the skills to use it in digital formats as well as print.

I just hope people like Mr. Jonkers doesn't drag his feet so long he finds himself unemployed.

Thanks for your comment. I know I am probably in the minority on this one,


Hi Cathy Jo,

Your first line sums it up for me: "I would imagine that article made many librarians who are still sitting on the sidelines feel better about their choice to wait."

I do not expect a full scale embrace of e-books at this time, but we as a profession need to be the THE most knowledgable person on the staff about them, and part of being knowledgable means using them personally.

I just saw this as a big step backwards.


Hi Jennifer,

My sense is that you reflect the state of most librarians - while not adopting e-books in a big way at work, at least using them personally and becoming smart about them.

Maybe you can write the next e-book article for SLJ - you are certainly a better role model!

Thanks for the comment,


January 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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