Kids, Computers, and Church & Synagogue Libraries
An article written for the Church and Synagogue Library Association Magazine
by Neil MacQueen
According to some folks I’ve met, computers are the anti-Christ when it comes to books and literacy. They greet computers in education much like the printing press was greeted centuries ago, -with suspicion and sledgehammers. Others happily and often unknowingly use computer technology everyday –but resist exploring the tools well enough to experiment and dream. This too shall surely pass if only for this one fact: most of our children have never known a world without the computer.
To our kids, books and computers are two wonderful choices to be explored. They have no clue what a card catalog is (or was) and their introduction to Dr. Suess may just as well have been on a computer screen as in a book. In this strange new world, children’s book sales are actually HIGHER than they were when I was a kid.
Walk into any public library and you will see kids reading books and on the computer. The same can be true in any church or synagogue library.
A few suggestions…
The Religious Library and Resource Center have at their heart the idea of providing resources for home-use. Yet so many religious materials barely make it off the shelf, or out of the backseat of the car. A generation of adherents, having been bored by our beige block walls, begrudgingly and sparingly trusts our message, but not our methods or materials. It’s not that they won’t read, –they are gobbling up Harry Potter and R.L. Stein.
I believe many parents AVOID Christian resources because they didn’t grow up with them in the home. They also avoid them because their memories of using them at church are unfavorably mixed with remembrances of long dutiful classes spent in wooden chairs with the alleged love of God.
Software has no such history. It doesn’t look or smell like dreary old grandad’s faith. Software may be the “Trojan Horse” of religious materials. It is the same message brought through the gates inside a new medium. It is both attractive and curious enough to get brought through the home defenses.
Most software has a hard time masquerading as dull. And it certainly isn’t to this generation of would-be believers. While the idea of lending religious software to the young may seem futuristic, in fact, a large number of our congregant homes are equipped both figuratively and literally to use software right now. Religious software is simply another in a long line of tools to share the message of God. And it’s time has just begun.
Computers attract kids like rabbits to my wife’s garden. And they tend to multiply too….both the kids and the computers. A strategically placed computer in the library will do more to bring kids back among the books and videotapes than all the flyers you can mimeograph. Computer equipment is soon to be to the by-the-door barrel what old suits and coats are now. Old clothing here, Last year’s Pentiums over there. Some churches already have more equipment than they can use. The presence and welcome extended by the computer and religious software can help teachers, students and parents rediscover the treasure buried on the shelves.
What is it about software that makes it so attractive? Good software is like a good book. Both invite the user to burrow into a slightly altered state where time passes without notice and attention is engrossingly focused. Computers add to this mix a bit of kinesthetic interactivity and anticipation of ‘what will happen when I click this….” Yet unlike many books, because software also has an audio-visual component, several kids can share one computer at the same time. They become ‘co-explorers’ with their teacher.
What good software is out there? Like any resource, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How else can we explain so many homely religious CDs? Being picky is not only good stewardship, it is critical to your long-term success. If the Trojan Horse opens to reveal a dud on the home computer, your hope for a new resource day may be dashed. I invite you to my ministry’s website listing at www.sundaysoftware.com to see what we like, and what we don’t like (and why). While most of our titles are Christian, we do keep an eye on good Jewish software, which isn’t as plentiful…..yet. Our links page contains several links to Jewish software sites.
Which raises the final question of this article: Should you have the Internet hooked-up to your library computer? The only reasonable answer is absolutely. The amount of religious Internet content available for students of all ages is astounding. Just the other day I did a complete Bible study in five different translation entirely on the Internet. I also browsed over 20 sites about Passover in preparation for a Seder.
We’re all well aware of the seedy side of the Internet, but there are numerous supervisory and software measures that can be implemented to ensure a wonderful Web experience for all. Adult supervision at all times goes without saying. Safe-Surfing software is plentiful and inexpensive. The Internet creates a stir among the children and youth who can’t remember when it didn’t exist!
In the hands of a teacher, media as exciting to young people as the computer and software are surely gifts from heaven.