Libraries and Books: Burn, Ban or Embrace Them?

By: Dorian Harmatiy.

If knowledge is power, and people have access to this knowledge, then libraries are the source and sustenance of democratic power.  In reviewing the history of tyranny and despotism, we realize tyrants have a common practice–the decimation of the center of knowledge: libraries. During Caesar’s invasion of Alexandria, he burned their library to erase their symbol of power. When the Mongol Empire pursued their deadly rampage across Eurasia, they burned any books that had ideas contrary to their beliefs. When Hitler initiated his nefarious regime, he eradicated any books that had anti-National Socialist teachings and burned books in public displays of intimidation. This is because throughout history, libraries have always stood as a bastion of safety, enlightenment, and culture.

Even when countries have not been in the midst of war, but when fear dominated public discourse, it has been popular to ban books – or at least try to – when their content might make readers uneasy.  But being uncomfortable is part of reading, and we grow with ideas and topics that are new to us. In fact, in the science fiction thriller Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury even described a dystopian society where books are completely banned and firemen are called out to burn any books that could be found. Our country has a history of banning books and then challenging those bans! This proves that books are valuable, and that they should be cherished for the strength that they give us. April 7 – 13 is National Library Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. It offers us a good opportunity to consider the value of libraries, as well as how well we have taken advantage of all they have to offer us.

While not under risk of a despotic burning of the books, North Royalton High School is fortunate to have its own center of knowledge nestled between Heritage Hallway and Cafeteria One. The North Royalton High School Library and Media Center continue to provide a daily resource for students to research, read, and study.  However, our library, and more importantly, our librarian, Ms. Whitehead, have more resources to offer than most students are aware of.

Ms. Whitehead has been a high school librarian for seventeen years and served as a librarian in Parma City Schools prior to working at the NR Middle and High School libraries.  According to Ms. Whitehead, the main purpose of the library is “to support our mission statement to Inspire and Empower Learners while providing resources and assistance to help satisfy our curriculum for our students and staff.”

Some of you may remember Mrs. Sholtis, who is the librarian in the elementary buildings. Both Ms. Whitehead and Mrs. Sholtis coordinate by sharing a webpage and collaborating on “the design, resources, and programs that we offer in the libraries.”  The libraries “work closely with teachers and students to identify, gather, support, and market resources to help students achieve their learning objectives.” Ms. Whitehead provided wonderful ideas as to what is available to students at NRHS in this Q&A.

From your point of view, what is the main purpose that NRHS students come to the library for?

The purpose of the school library at the high school is to support our mission statement to Inspire and Empower Learners while providing resources and assistance to help satisfy our curriculum for our students and staff. We strive to provide 24/7 access to resources such as databases, ebooks, and audiobooks and public library tools are embedded in our school library webpage. The library staff is on-hand during the school day to support student and staff needs whether it is in the form of a database or electronic book lessons in the classroom or troubleshooting Chromebooks, devices, or online resources. The library also has headphones, scanners, printers and other tools for use.

Are there any apps that the library uses to help engage students?

The library frequently markets the Overdrive app for high school and the companion Sora app for the K-8 grades so students can access ebooks and audiobooks from both our school and other public libraries. Some of the databases resources, such as Gale, also offer an app that is integrated with Google and can be used for research. Flipster is an app for magazines that can be accessed with a public library card.

Do you have a wish-list for students to be able to suggest and request books to be available at the library.

The Overdrive/Sora app allows for student suggestions for books both at our school and the public library. We are also happy to help students request public library materials with their library card. Students can also let us know of titles they would like to read in person or by email to

Have you heard of reading competitions, and do you think that these would be possible in our area?

There are many types of reading incentives currently being implemented in the classrooms. Some teachers implement a 40/50/60 book challenge where students strive to read a certain amount of books a year. Pizza Hut offers a BOOK IT! Program and Lake Erie Crushers have their mascot Stomper’s Reading Club. Both Pizza Hut and Stomper’s Reading Club provide prizes for completion of reading goals. The Cuyahoga County Public Library has a summer reading program that many grade levels promote.

How has the high school library changed over time, in regards to physical features and/or resources it offers students?

Next year, due to construction, the High School library will be located in Gym 3, and it is anticipated by Fall 2020 the library’s final move will be to the cafeteria. The addition of Chromebooks, and space constraints, has eliminated the need for computer labs in the library although we will have computers for printing. I have seen the shift from cassette tapes to CDs to electronic-formatted audio books. Due to licensing, some audiobooks are not available in electronic format so CDs are still circulated in libraries. VHS tapes have been removed, shared classroom projectors on carts have been eliminated, and our local Novell server was replaced with Google cloud-based applications.  Electronic books have been added to our collections in a variety of lending formats such as one-to-one titles (one book – one student), unlimited titles (all members of a building could read the same title), and book rentals (for example a 4-week checkout at a cost of $3 can be used for book clubs or literature circles).

Has our school district thought about how to encourage more reading through authorship?

The Royal News is a great example of a resource that encourages reading through authorship. Also, Mrs. Leatherman is a wonderful mentor, knowledgeable advisor, and a published author! The Euclid – Lyndhurst branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library has a William N Skirball Writing Center, and it would be great to emulate a similar resource at our high school, perhaps as a passion project for a member of The Royal News? (Ms. Whitehead would be happy to help assist with the site/resources if anyone is interested!  Calling all enthusiasts of poetry and writing to contact us and take Ms. Whitehead up on her offer!)

Does the North Royalton high school library have any relations with the Cuyahoga County library?

Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) is an award winning library with twenty-seven branches or community centers. Sara Feldman, director of CCPL, states, “Collections are important, but it is more about what we do for and with people in our community. If we do not recognize the role we play — education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and engagement — we are destined to be like video stores and Radio Shack.”

The teen librarian, Becky Baldwin, at the North Royalton branch of CCPL, and I meet once or twice a month for our middle school lunch club and high school book club. If anyone is interested in joining a book club, stop by the library to find out more! The teen librarian and I also applied and were awarded a grant for $5,000 in technology resources from CCPL.

Our school libraries reach out frequently to the public library to gather book discussion sets and book requests for class projects. Our district has a mail courier that stops at the public library to drop off or retrieve hundreds of book requests each year for our buildings. We incorporate the public library databases on our district library page as well as lists of book discussion sets for teachers. If students do not have a public library card, we have the applications in the library and on the website. We are happy to mail student applications to the public library and return the issued library card to the student. It is our goal to assist students with the multitude of resources and offer “customer service” so they have access to what they need, when they need it, on whatever device they, or we, may have.

In addition to all of these resources, readers should be aware of the hundreds of resources your FREE Cuyahoga Public Library card offers, including:

  • Learn a language! (Mango Languages offers over 70 languages, and resembles Rosetta Stone)
  • Learn a craft! (Watch Creativebug videos)
  • Using Learning Express Library, take free ACT and SAT practice tests!
  • Read a subscription-based newspaper (New York Times or Wall Street Journal) for free!
  • Take a practice Driving Test, etc.

April 7th through the 13th is National Library Week. During this period of time, students can show their support of local libraries by visiting them, showing support on social media with the hashtag #NationalLibraryWeek and #LibrariesTransform. We encourage readers to visit their libraries and support these amazing establishments.

Dorian is a freshman that likes to read, learn new words, try new things, and tries to see the cup as half full, even when others are throwing away their cups.