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Kids don't want e-books

I retired more than six months ago and have seen seasons come and go, yet I feel that my summer vacation never ended. Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays — ways to mark the passing of a school year — passed quietly. No countdowns for me because my days off, after 30 years of teaching in Baltimore County, are now the ones of my choosing.

People warned me that my calendar would fill quickly. I have my routines. Yoga, dance, volunteering and playing the piano. Best of all, I have time to write again — and to read.

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Reading was my first love in life, and a passion I have nurtured in others. I started my career as an elementary classroom teacher, and by the mid-point, I had become a reading specialist, working in both elementary and middle schools. I went on to earn a second masters in instructional technology with a concentration in library media, and I spent the last 14 years of my career as a library media specialist. I was the first and only elementary school librarian in BCPS to earn National Board Certification in Library Media. I also spent a few years working as an adjunct for Towson University, teaching future library media specialists children's literature and video production.

I can't say that any of the different teaching positions was a favorite. I loved them all, each in their own way. So many students learned to love books on my watch, both as a classroom teacher and a librarian. So many parents wrote to me to say how their children loved the library and how they loved that their children were on their way to developing lifelong reading habits. During my last few years, the library became a classroom, and we had to deliver curriculum lessons that edged out time for reading. Somehow I found a way to read to the children and introduce them to new books.

One of the biggest changes in the library over the past 10 years has been the publishers' push toward e-books. In the beginning, the technology was stilted, making the books difficult to read. As time passed, the e-book experience improved dramatically as evidenced by the popularity of Kindles and Nooks and even e-reader applications for smart phones and tablets.

As I meet former colleagues while shopping or out for a walk, library media specialists will tell me how things are going. Recently they have lamented the fact that when placing their annual book order they must adhere to what has been coined the 80-20 rule. Library media specialists must make 20 percent of their order electronic books. I have been told that displeasure with this rule was the consensus shared in a meeting of librarians ages 24 to 64. This shared opinion across generations of librarians says something important.

The problem is that students simply prefer books in print. Both elementary and secondary librarians have shared with me that e-books are still a hard sell even to our "digital natives." This begs the question: Is a technology solution always the best solution? Is it the wisest use of funding? It may seem cool to those who do not regularly work with children, or even "engaging." However children will always tell you the unvarnished truth. When a librarian says, "Oh, sorry, the book you want is checked out. But we have the e-book," usually the student will say, "Oh, never mind. What do you have that is in the library?"

Out of the mouths of babes.

Anne Spigelmire Groth is a retired teacher who blogs at https://teachingafter60.wordpress.com. Her email is anne.groth@me.com.

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