Creating a Love of Reading

I love libraries. Considering that I am the Library Director here in town this is a good thing. I had the pleasure a few years ago to give a presentation to graduate students in library school about why I thought libraries are important to society. Instead of going over all the research and professional writing done on the topic, I made my discussion a personal one.

I remember quite well my days as a young boy visiting the library during the summers. I grew up in the town of Springfield, Missouri and we had a main branch and a half dozen smaller branches throughout the city. I had the pleasure of using the Main Branch. In my presentation to the library school students I started off with a picture of the front steps of that library. The next slide was of the first house I remember living in. The next slide was of the library. The next slide was of the second house I remember living in. About 10 slides later and you see the 12 houses where my family lived as I was growing up. In between each of those pictures was a picture of that Main Branch. To say that the library was a stabilizing force throughout the constant moving during my youth is an understatement.

I remember quite well the librarian I met after school each day and during the summers. I feel bad that I never asked her name and only ever referred to her as “Ms. Librarian”. Given that I was part of a rather large family in the area known as The Rideeouttes, it was to be expected that I was a little hellion, and I lived up to those expectations. It was not uncommon for an authority figure to say “Are you one of those Rideeoutte kids?” Given my predilection for loud talking, running, and constantly making noise, I was usually not in the library for very long before I was asked by Ms. Librarian to leave the building. (By the way, if you don’t want kids to play swords with newspaper holders, you shouldn’t make them look like a sword.) She would always pull me aside as I left the building and said “I hope to see you tomorrow when you can behave.” This really never did happen, well the behaving part didn’t. I did go back every day, but somewhere along the way I developed a love for learning and reading. Once I figured out how to use a card catalog system I was in a world of my own. For those of you too young to know what I mean by a card catalog system, picture the Internet written on 3 by 5 cards and stuffed into a wooden box.

Ms. Librarian is the librarian that has most influenced my professional career as a librarian. I strive to have her patience, but more importantly her never give up on any kid attitude. I am sure her life would had been easier if she had just told me to never come back, but she didn’t.

If your child has come into the library, there is a good chance they know me as that old guy who constantly says things like “Hey Kid! Read a book!” “You know what fun is? Reading.” Or for those kids who have been on the computer too long: “When is the last time you read a book?”

The best way to get a kid to read a book is to talk to them about what sparks their interest and how they feel about the other books they have read. At the beginning of this summer I met a young lady named Bernice. Bernice visits the library pretty much every day. When I first met Bernice I asked her my typical question “When is the last time you read a book?” Her response was “I hate books.” As you could imagine, those words are like daggers to a librarian. Over the next couple of weeks I made sure to talk to Bernice every time I saw her in the library. Part of getting a kid to read is first being able to talk to them on their level. Once a child understands that you are listening, they will want to talk to you. Which is much better than the typical “Why is this adult talking to me” look kids give most adults.

One day after a healthy eating event we had at the library this summer, I sat there at my desk with about two dozen oranges leftover from the program. At that moment, I had the epiphany to give every kid who checks out a book and reads a chapter an orange. Specifically those kids we get to know over the summer. After talking over my plan with the kids, the children’s library area was buzzing with activity as kids checked out books and tried to read a chapter as fast as possible. All for an orange. I even managed to talk Bernice into checking out a book. I will always remember the title “Baby Mouse”. By the way this is a great book for kids who say they hate reading. Baby Mouse is such an endearing character and gets into the funniest of dilemmas. After I had passed out all my oranges, I looked over and Bernice was way past reading that first chapter. What a sight to see! A kid reading in the library.

A few weeks later, I saw Bernice signing up to use a library computer. I made a point to ask her “Well. What do you think of reading now?”

“Books are okay I guess.”

I have to say that this is the best thing I heard all summer.