Students across the state are taking the new Maine Educational Assessment, or Smarter Balanced, tests this spring. Most are taking it online, meaning the servers of the school districts involved are under stress.

What happens when administrators announce the non-testing use of technology will be limited in order to prevent a crash? Not surprisingly, teens and tweens panic. So do the adults who supervise them.

A recent Pew Research Center report revealed the extent to which American teenagers are online, connected, plugged-in, in front of screens. The survey discovered that 24 percent of teens are online “almost constantly.” Nearly all go online at least once a day — 92 percent. I suppose there are always a few outliers, but, really, was the other eight percent lying, or were they Amish?

No, the latter can’t be true because the survey was done online.

Hmmm. This is a mystery. Every time I see a group of teenagers together, they are all looking at their mobile devices, or showing each other pictures on their mobile devices, or taking selfies with their mobile devices, or wresting the mobile devices out of each other’s hands.

I’m a school librarian, so I know what I’m talking about. But, I must admit, the idea of a total tech shutdown had me on tenterhooks, too.

The only thing worse is losing power. Especially in winter. I enjoy reading historical fiction and watching costume dramas, but whenever the lights and heat go off, I just shiver at the thought of how cold and forbidding the old days must have been. Thomas Edison is my hero.

Going without tech is plunging back into the dark ages. And, in some cases, there really is no going back.

The modern library doesn’t function without technology. Books and other items are found and checked in and out by a computerized system. In a pinch, a school librarian could check out books by writing down the titles and barcode numbers, but no sane person would want to do that for more than a day (and that’s stretching it). All those transactions would then have to be entered into the system once it is back up.

Then there’s the problem of the books that can’t be checked in. They pile up. Plus, unless the student is a renowned scofflaw, the librarian probably doesn’t remember that the child has several overdue books and shouldn’t be taking out another one until he returns them. This information is only available on the computerized system.

And who is finding these books? The online catalog is kaput. The key to the library is lost. Nobody I know who checks out books for a living wants to return to the days of the card catalog. They’re handsome as repurposed furniture, which is how I indulge my nostalgia for the look of the things. That said, the card catalog never went down. It was always possible for me to find that elusive memoir by a wilderness traveler that was housed in either biography or the 900s (geography and history).

In a small library, a librarian can help a patron find a book on pandas by perusing the 500s. The science world is so neatly divided. The animals follow one another by class, the birds, the reptiles, the mammals. Then the mammals are arranged by family. There is the giant panda, among the other bears.

If a patron knows the title of a novel, but not the author, the librarian might be able to help. Of course, all library users can still browse the shelves. That would be their best bet.

So it was with trepidation that we shut down operations for several hours while the testing went live. More students than usual took out books before and after this period. There is still work for librarians to do without technology being available, such as shelving items, covering books and making sure students aren’t using their cell phones.

The next day, however, adults could go back online during the testing period. I was ecstatic, as 100 or so middle-schoolers were set to arrive to begin work on a big research project.

The only problem was that they…couldn’t find books on their own. So four adults feverishly worked their computers hunting down those Dewey numbers. I felt rather madcap as I located a title, helped a student find it on the shelf, and then returned to find two more children waiting by my laptop for help.

Technology tends to spoil us, yet it has become so ingrained in our lives that we really can’t carry on normally without it. That’s a sobering thought; almost a scary one.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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