Access to Books is Crucial for Kids — Part 1, The Role of LIBRARIES

August 6, 2012

My mother spent a couple of years in the early 1970s as a kindergarten teacher. She said it was readily apparent at the beginning of the school year which children had been read to, and which hadn’t. Reading with children is crucial to their development. Not only does reading stretch their imaginations, it helps them develop language and social skills that will be necessary to their functioning as life progresses. Many books and articles attest to this. For a couple of examples, check out Family Resource dot com, and the statistics information on Emma Walton Hamilton’s Raising Bookworms site. (More about Raising Bookworms, and a GIVEAWAY, at the end of this post.)

Libraries play an integral, indeed crucial role, in providing access to books, for without access to books it is very difficult to raise readers. This is true for both public libraries and school libraries. A few years ago, the International Association of School Librarianship compiled a list of links to articles illustrating how school libraries enhance children’s achievement in school. This article from RIF (Reading is Fundamental) highlights the importance of access to reading material for kids. The New York Public Library underlines the role of summer reading programs.

For a look at my personal childhood experience of libraries, what is happening around the world to bring library access to the poorest of our globe’s citizens, and for a chance to win a copy of Emma’s book Raising Bookworms, click the magic words.

For the first several years of my life, there was no library in the small town nearest our farm. I am so grateful that my parents recognized the importance of libraries, and regularly made the half-hour drive to a larger town where there was a good public library. I still remember the location of some of my favorite books on the shelves of that library, and recall with fondness Mrs. Mattson, the librarian.

When a library finally opened in our little town, in the basement of the Post Office, it quickly became my favorite spot to spend time while Mum got groceries. One early experience that sticks out in my mind highlights the importance of understanding different children’s responses to books, however. The woman who staffed the library was not a trained librarian, I am quite sure. I hope that no trained librarian would respond this way to a child. I took out a few books, and went back to our car to read while I waited for Mum. I quickly finished one of the books, so went back to the library to get a different one, since there seemed to be no point in taking home a book I had already read. The “library lady” said, “You can’t possibly have read that book so quickly,” and she wouldn’t let me return it and choose a different one. Although that didn’t slow my reading speed in the least — I continued to devour books — obviously that has stuck with me as a lesson to watch my words!

In 1967, when I was 10 1/2, my parents and I drove out to Vancouver for a vacation. We spent most of a week in a motel next door to a branch library, and somehow my mother talked the library staff there into letting me have a library card for that week. That meant so much to me — among other books, I read Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and delighted in the way timid, withdrawn Elizabeth Ann evolved into independent, confident Betsy. Books — and by extension, libraries — can have a profound effect on a child.

Another memory is writ large on the pages of my childhood, this one stamped with “ACCESS DENIED.” In the school I attended for grades 6 to 10, there was a school library, but it often was locked and inaccessible, I suppose due to staffing issues. I remember looking through the window in the door at all those lovely books that were so close yet unavailable to me. I am grateful for the brief times that library was open, and remember reading It’s Like This, Cat, and Thomasina… but all too often, that door was closed. What a shame, and what a negative message to send to the students in that school.

Others around the world find “ACCESS DENIED” stamps when they seek to find books because libraries simply aren’t available where they live. Thankfully there are those who are working to change this, and there are ways for those of us who can help to get involved in making it possible for children everywhere to have access to the books they need to learn and grow.

Operation USA, a charity that has very little overhead, giving rise to their slogan “Give and it Gets There,” has a project in Kigali, Uganda, helping the first public library in Uganda to get onto its feet. To read more, you can check OpUSA’s website, or the Kigali Library’s website itself.

One of my writing colleagues, Miranda Paul, is devoted to the cause of bringing books to the poorest of our world, and is involved in 1 Million Books for Gambia. You can read of her experiences in helping to set up libraries in Africa’s smallest country in this blog post.

These are just two of the many projects around the world that are seeking to make library access available to all children. You can help by getting involved in one of these or a similar project. You can also help enormously by supporting your local library, and by encouraging all the children in your life to consider the library one of the most important places in their lives.

GIVEAWAY! To help in the goal of encouraging children to read (something very close to my heart) I am once again giving away a copy (just one this time) of Emma Walton Hamilton’s excellent resource and encouragement book, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. Every comment made on my blog during the month of August will be entered in a draw for the book, and the winner will be announced on Monday, September 10.

How have libraries impacted YOUR life?

19 People reacted on this

  1. What a wonderful reminder. Access to books truly can and does have an impact.

    For myself, I can’t say I recall my mother really sitting down to read to me, my sister or my older brother. We grew up on the poorer side of town and access to books wasn’t really the issue. There was the “now” factor, how would reading fix a situation. There was the “coolness” factor. And sadly, reading wasn’t cool. Needless to say, neither was I, because from Kindergarten forward, I loved reading.

    Along with access and dealing with surrounding connotations of reading, encouragement was a plus. I can’t really recall the public librarians or the school librarians being especially helpful, but they certainly offered their knowledge to me as a fledgling bookworm and my mother offered her encouragement by making sure I got a library card.

  2. I got my first library card in my own name a month ago! It belongs to The Columbia County Traveling Library! I always used my parent’s library card where we used to live. I was super happy to have one in my own name! 🙂 Great post!

  3. I am lucky to say I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a library card. There has never been a problem with access to books here. That’s why I got involved with the kids of Laos many of which have never seen a book.
    Books do impact on us in many ways.

    1. It’s hard for me to even imagine never having seen a book. The organization you support in Laos is doing incredible work.

  4. What a charming story, Beth! No wonder you are a prolific reader and writer. I wish I could read as fast 🙂
    As a children’s school librarian many years ago, I watched the trend in books checked out each day. Inevitably, the classes I would read to (K-3rd) during the school year, would be the first to check out books during library time. Then, as those students moved up a grade (and I no longer read to them), they continued to love reading, and check out books during the year. It works!! That”s why, as I home educate our teens, I still read to them every day. They not only devour books, but have since been hired as pages at our local library.

    1. Let’s hear it for school librarians! Worth their weight in gold. I am so glad to hear you still read aloud to your teens. Kudos to you!

  5. So true! Access to reading and libraries are so crucial. I loved Understood Betsy – one of my absolute favorites when I was little (and still :)) – and one of my earliest library memories was of going to our local branch on a hot, hot summer day in NYC when I was 8 and getting Little Women, carrying that big book home, and the joy and anticipation of having all those lovely words to read – that story to get lost in – so that I forgot all about the heat. (I’m just commenting to join in the conversation – as you know I have already won a copy of Emma’s book so don’t count me for that :))

  6. We take so much for granted. I had my own library card and one for the visiting bookmobile in the summer. Access is so important and we should all help. I admire and love the projects Miranda Paul and Diane Tulloch are involved with. Didn’t realize Op USA had a program too. Thanks for sharing. Nice post.

    1. It is so good to have ready access to libraries — we do tend to take it for granted where we live. It’s good to have reminders that not all people are as fortunate. Thanks, Pat!

  7. Beth, we went to the library frequently. I have a strong memory of a library, participating in the summer library program and reading “A Wrinkle in Time.” Now, I couldn’t tell you where that library was, but I can picture the interior of the building, etc. Funny!

    1. Obviously, the interior of the building was the important part to you then! After all, that’s where the magic happens — that’s where the books are!

  8. My father took me and my sister to the Edmonton Public Library every week. There were many branches, usually next to or in a mall. We worked our way through all of them. I loved make a wall of books on my bed when I’d get home. My father had the experience as a child of whipping through all the books in the children’s section of his small East Texas library, and not being allowed to check out the books in the adult section. Thank you for sharing your story about libraries. I was a librarian for many years.

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