Library Revival! and Mind the Gap…
Last year, a Pew Internet & American Life Project report stated, “There are several major findings…one is this: For help with a variety of common problems, more people turn to the internet than consult experts or family members to provide information and resources. Another key insight is that members of Gen Y are the leading users of libraries for help solving problems and in more general patronage.” Whoa! Libraries aren’t dead, they’re just in revival! But the paper goes on to describe this young group as 18-24-year olds, rather than elementary or high school students. So what happens before then?
One of the joys of the early years during library time is when parents come and remark that “somehow he just started reading–overnight!” Like a light-switch, reading becomes important, and then all-consuming! Prying that Magic School Bus book out of their hands to put food in their mouths during dinner time is actually a challenge and, secretly, a joy to both the parent and the child. The joy lasts for three or four good years–the voracious series-reader, the comics-reader, the reference-reader, the in-depth subject-reader, the behemoth-volume reader, the genre-reader–all books seem to be part of the feeding-frenzy. Enjoyment and pleasure is a key component here, finding a book, magazine, comic, even trading cards or role-playing games help kids find out who they are, their likes and dislikes, their penchant for exploration. And as kids mature, reading as reward is a great part of our school–fifth graders begin their week by taking the first twenty minutes of class time with a self-chosen book for silent reading; classroom book clubs are exciting places to diversify the young readers’ repertoire; during silent reading time, students look around to see one another deeply engaged.
Yet in 2004, Reading at Risk, a report from the National Endowment of the Arts, claimed our nation of readers was in decline–“among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy”–with the rate of decline for 18-24-year olds down by 55%. What are we to believe? What is reading–print or electronic? “literature,” newspapers, or cereal boxes? And, again, what about those early years, the “gap” where reading supposedly falls off, often when kids begin using multimedia?
One of the library program’s jobs is empowering kids to make good choices in their media, especially in the early years. How do I find something that is interesting and meaningful to me? How do I find something in such a large room full of materials? What do my friends like and how can we share these likes with each other? This is preparation for what lies ahead–the flood of information sources kids gain access to in the middle years–and a chance to give them guidance on how not to get lost in the ocean of resources we adults manage on a daily basis. Fifth graders are searching through public library databases to work on their historical newspapers. Many students have begun to do their own searches, use the self-checkout system alone, and return their books without visiting the library each week. The library becomes more of a backbone, something you call rely upon but maybe don’t think about too much until it’s not there. A sense of independence grows, but learning when you need to know more and how to find it becomes more significant.
As our library grows, we’ll begin to incorporate digital media tools for the middle school–a plasma screen, a photocopier, computers, databases for research geared toward younger students. Reading for information and research will become an acquired skill; learning keyword and phrase searching becomes an important skill to learn; recording and documenting your work well becomes more significant; deciding which sources to use and how to apply them is a complex set of decisions that is introduced and reinforced throughout these years as the Internet takes over print as the primary source of learning and information berry-picking. The Internet and the digital worlds become a larger part of the upper grades and a blending of the library’s physical and digital collections will begin to emerge.
So what can be done to keep kids reading print during these more scholarly “middle years”? Offer up some “hard” books dealing with tougher topics (Chris Crutcher, Judith Krug, and Carolyn Mackler are great authors for mature readers) and react to it with them; pick up a book you can read aloud together or listen together on CD/mp3; play role-playing games to keep your imagination running (Dungeons and Dragons is making a strong comeback!); visit the Guys Read website (www.guysread.com) for how to keep boys, in particular, reading; continue to take trips to the library for fun rather than “to do some research.” Try keeping a media diet balanced more heavily toward print with a variety of magazine subscriptions (very cheap these days), comics, board games, photography, or artwork; share your thoughts and ideas on what your media habits are like with the community on CommonSense Media’s website (www.commonsensemedia.org).
Remind your young ones that it takes time, patience, and perseverance to learn and engage with the world, not just a fast Internet connection or a large video collection. Print media is often a calming environment filled with imagination, wisdom, and depth that takes time to explore and discover which can be complimented by the web, television, or movies. Read that first 50 pages of a chapter book before deciding you don’t like it! Ask a friend for a recommendation, or share your reading lists online with your friends (check out LibraryThing [www.librarything.com] or GoodReads [www.goodreads.com]). And keep an eye on the clock–set time limits on interactive media (such as email, online gaming) or media that promotes stimulation (watching t.v.) rather than relaxation or creative media. The jump from print to digital and back requires you to help “mind the gap” as we board the train from the stationary platform or step off into a station to take a break.