Recently I held a Library Survivor Lock-in in partnership with the local RCMP detachment. The participants were aged 7-12, and we gave them several library, craft, and first-aid tasks for their teams. Building a newspaper survival hut was no problem, nor was creating a paper, tape, and pipe cleaner hat. They passed a survival quiz, and quickly caught on to the method of splinting a broken wrist; one clever boy thought of rolling a magazine to make a splint. But when it came to looking up the author of Treasure Island or finding the call number for First Aid books (no, it is not 911), they were in deep waters without a life jacket. If their lives depended on knowing what “alphabetical order” meant, they’d be up a creek. This shocked and saddened me to no end. Why didn’t they know how to do this? 12-year olds had no clue how to even look on the library catalogue to find a book’s author or call number. They were using Google, even though every computer had the library catalogue up. They had to leave that page and go to a browser! Filled with dismay, I began to do some quick soul-searching. You may by now realize that I do not work every day with the public, or perhaps this would not have been such a shock to me. These kids educated me. No-one has bothered to teach them library skills. No-one has asked them to use the library catalogue to find a book. No-one has taught them how to find a book once they know the call number. No-one has taught them what a call number is. We will be teaching them library skills for the rest of the summer in computer camps, you can be sure. But what about those empty libraries at their schools? The lack of school librarians and their importance is certainly clear to me, more so right now than in a long time.
I am holding out some hope for these kids. I won’t even begin to lament their reading comprehension skills, or their ability to follow directions. But I sure am glad that they will survive the zombie apocalypse, armed with newspaper, iPods, and chocolate bars.