An article in this month’s CILIP Update (accessible to CILIP members and subscribers) has a line looking at computers vs books in the educational development of children and suggests that “having a 500 book library at home will apparently propel a child 3.2 years further in education”. Interesting, I thought, although I have a sneaking suspicion that my home library these days doesn’t contain anything like that many books – and I’ve got three book cases full of them (and copious copies scattered around the house.)
It doesn’t say anything about the quality though – so I guess 500 copies of “Katie Price: My Struggle” and similar celeb biogs are of equal scholastic work as multiple editions of Stroud’s standard engineering texts!
Thinking back to myself as a timorous little school boy, I can say that without a doubt our house had at best a couple of hundred books, which makes me wonder – was I held back because my parent was unable to afford to buy me book after book to assist with my studies? That my only homework companion was a 1970s partwork encyclopedia, did that reduce my university destinations? Did the fact that 100 of these books were Doctor Who tv novelisation impact on my final A-Level grades?
Probably not, I suspect that was more down to watching a lot of tv on a Sunday afternoon while trying to make head or tail of seemingly pointless homework. What did help my studies, and without a doubt my day to day working life, was the fact that I was exposed to computers at age 7, bought myself one at 11 and spent many many hours teaching myself to program and play computer games. The latter might sound like less scholastic study to some of you, until I perhaps point out that my experience over hundreds of games on multiple platforms means I know a hell of a lot about user interfaces, that instinctively I can work my way round an unfamilier UI without thinking and that the modern world is my learning playground.
And what about the books? Well, yes I read. A lot. I think I came close to reading everything in my local public library by the time I finished my A-levels. My “personal” library had more than 500 books, and I didn’t even have to store them and sort them on my own shelfs. That’s what the fabulous library staff there did for me. So perhaps what the article should have concluded is “yes books are useful, but so are computers…and so is your local public library”