Written by: Cooper Aspegren and Ben Atlas
During the month of January, the Gunn library participated in a competition known as the Follett Challenge. Gunn, along with nearly 100 other schools, submitted a video detailing the innovative features of each library. Gunn’s video placed first, winning a $60,000 gift certificate with which the library can buy materials from the company Follett, such as electronic books. The certificate will be shared between various different schools of the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD).
Gunn’s victory in the Follett challenge sparked a great deal of online controversy. Critics asserted that it was wrong for Gunn to participate in the Follett challenge because it denied other, less well-off schools the opportunity to improve their libraries. These critics rely on flawed and hypocritical reasoning. The Gunn library should be lauded for winning the competition because it uses a well-earned reward to better the school’s academic resources.
Modern economic thought is rooted in capitalism and competition. If everyone competes against one another for the same job, or to create the best-selling product, everyone works as hard as they can. The job is done in the best way possible, and the best possible product is created as each individual strives to outdo the other.
Gunn won the Follett challenge for a reason. Gunn’s library was judged to be the most innovative library competing. Thus, the hardworking library staff was rewarded for their efforts to raise money and put it to good use. The intention of the Follett challenge was not to aid the needy or to help failing schools. It was to spur innovation and new ways to teach and learn. Gunn’s library demonstrated the ability to do just that—and was justly rewarded for its skill and hard work. It is only fair that—as in any competition—the best man should win.
Furthermore, it seems odd that this specific competition should be scapegoated as the single instance in which Gunn is obligated to sacrifice its own well-being for another school’s. Gunn maintains a high standard of academic and athletic excellence—but Gunn continues to look for grants for sports teams and academic institutions. There is no obligation for the school to give up these goals to allow other schools to pursue the undoubtedly limited supply of donations and grants.
Critics respond to these points by pointing out that the library does not “need” the money from the Follett challenge. Gunn does not “need” a high-achieving basketball team, any sort of robotics organization or even a school newspaper. However, Gunn’s excellence in these areas should be and is incentivized and pursued, not stunted by citing other schools who “need” donations and funding more. The Follett Challenge is simply one more case of Gunn—like all other schools—working to further its own interests.
The idea that Gunn should not participate in the Follett Challenge because other schools need the funding more is ridiculous. Gunn won fairly and was rewarded for presenting the most innovative library. Just as Gunn would not sacrifice its basketball team to give extra dollars to a poorer school, or forego grants for the Gunn Robotics Team, the library should work to further the interests of its own students.
Ultimately, the culture of the school and the country involves competition and meritocracy. The best students get to go to the best schools. The best workers are the ones who get the most pay. The best library should be awarded the prize funding—it is hypocritical to suggest otherwise.
There is no question that Gunn—as a community of students, parents and staff members—can do much more to support its campus library, in terms of care and especially with regards to finances. However, engaging in the Follett Challenge proves a less than desirable course of action with regards toward fulfilling that goal. The Follett Challenge is a program that grants $60,000 to the library that proves most effective in “preparing students for the demands of the 21st Century.” Without a doubt, the Gunn library deserves the top prize that it won. However, alternative efforts would have proved far more beneficial and far more commendable in providing the support of which the library proves worthy.
There are hundreds, possibly thousands of school libraries that require the assistance of $60,000 in the form of goods to a more significant extent than the Gunn library does. With Palo Alto ranking as one of the most affluent centers of living in the nation and quite possibly the world, it is understandable to assume that a high school library in East Palo Alto or Oakland, among other schools, prove far more needful of monetary support in the form of a grant from a company like Follett. PAUSD has the means of supporting its libraries to a more significant degree; many other school districts lack these means. Even though the Gunn library’s annual funds of $6,500 could and should be augmented, it is safe to assume that libraries in many other school districts have a much steeper hill to climb in terms of finances.
It is true that many of the books, including several focused on scientific inquiry, on the Gunn library shelves are currently outdated, published in the 1990s or even earlier. While resources from Follett can help alleviate this concern, they are hardly necessary. The Gunn library’s substantive arsenal of high-tech computer technology more than makes up for that kind of deficiency. With its wide assortment of laptop and desktop computers, Gunn can already provide as much information, if not more, to the student than would any addition of books to the library catalog.
While the effort towards compiling enough votes to win a Follett Challenge prize proved a beneficial means of achieving unity within the community, other efforts would have proven more effective in achieving that goal. Setting up a fundraiser or series of fundraisers could have brought the community together to a greater degree. Even setting up a film screening or series of film screenings could have proven useful. By pursuing this course of action, Gunn would also garner a far greater level of appreciation for its library within the community.
The library’s efforts to win a well-deserved grant from Follett should be acclaimed as much as they have been rewarded. However, alternative courses of action would have been far more beneficial to pursue.