PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
What is the importance of reading in our society today?That is the basis of a study being undertaken by a major university, and I was one of the public library directors asked to respond to the study.
One of the first questions in the study was, "Have you heard excuses from people as to why they don't read?" The two comments that I hear the most are, "I am just too busy to read, and I don't like to read." Yes, we are all busy today, but each day still contains 24 hours and each individual must choose how to occupy that time.
The nice thing about reading is you can do a little, or a lot. You can read a book, a newspaper, an e-book; it comes in all kinds of formats and sizes. Not liking to read may be a result of a society of dibs and dabs of information; sound bites of data thrown at us from every angle. We have become so used to being "spoon fed" information nonstop all day that picking up a newspaper, or reading a newspaper online does seem like work after a day of information overload.
The advent of computers and the Internet also lulls us into a feeling that reading may be old fashioned and unnecessary. And here is a problem! How does information in the computer get into the human mind? Until someone invents a connection into our brain, we have to "read" it. And so we come full circle, in order to use the Internet and be part of the information ocean, you have to have the skills of reading.
As a librarian, I feel that reading also includes comprehension, interpretation, composition, grammar, spelling and writing. The survey also asks for solutions to the reading dilemma facing America today.
I think libraries need to develop the total package of information tools. That includes the traditional books, magazines, and newspapers, but is expanded to the Internet, databases, and e-sources. Computer and searching skills are an absolute necessity for our society. Librarians watch as people struggle to search online, and find the results that they want and need.
The earlier computer generation actually has a better grasp of computer searching skills through Boolean and keyword searching commonly taught 20 years ago. We need to concentrate on training people in how to obtain information, interpret what was found, and refine a search to obtain that specific information.
Of course, that is how librarians are trained, and now the public needs similar skills. That points to the importance of reading skills in education. I feel that you can't mandate reading to students: you have to encourage it. Schools must provide the opportunity to use reading skills within the broader curriculum.
Parents have to be involved in setting an environment for reading at home. My parents took me to the library beginning in Kindergarten, and made it a weekly event. I selected my own books, with encouragement from my parents. The importance of allowing children to choose their own reading materials cannot be overlooked.
There needs to be a new commitment to school libraries. They can't become a place to have study hall, or a meeting room of whatever purpose.As a society, we need to form a reading habit that continues for a lifetime.