“More than just books” sends the wrong message

By Dr. Stephen Krashen

Every morning, I scan google news to see if there are newspaper articles about libraries. About once a week, an article appears that says that members of a local public library can now borrow games, toys and even tools from their library, and often the article proudly announces that the library is now more than “just books.” This sends the unfortunate message that even librarians think that books alone will not attract the public to the library, the common sentiment being that “kids these days” and their parents don’t like to read.

But they do. In a survey of about 3000 children in grades four to six in the US (Schatz, Pierce, Galambor, and Krashen, 2008), only 10% said they didn’t like to read, 85% said they had a favorite book, and about 80% said they often or sometimes “got so interested in a book that I lose track of time when I’m reading it.” Also, these children were clearly not anti-library: Only 18% percent said that they didn’t like spending time in libraries. (About 2/3 of the children were participants in Book Trust, a program that enables children of poverty to choose and purchase books for their home libraries.)

It was refreshing to read that Dubai is very enthusiastic about the book collection in its new library. Dubai has recently invested $272 billion in children and adult books, periodicals, and journals for the new Mohammed Bin Rashid Library. It contains 1.1 million print and digital books and is described by CNN’s Nicola Chilton (Chilton, 2022) as “a beautiful oasis of calm contemplation, where visitors can curl up with a good book, plug in laptops for study or work, or marvel at the rare manuscripts and first-edition books displayed in the exhibition space on the seventh floor.”

There’s nothing wrong with offering more services, but let’s not suggest that we are doing it because books and reading are unpopular.

Note: A recent report from the Pew Research Center (Schaeffer, 2021) presents clear evidence that “reading for fun has become less common” among US children, but there is no mention of the obvious reasons, e.g. reduced funding for school librarians (Kachel and Lance, 2021) and increased amount of homework (Pinsker, 2019). No evidence was presented that interest in reading has declined.

Chilton, N. 2022. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/mohammed-bin-rashid-library-dubai/index.html
Kachel, D. E., and Lance, K.C. 2021. “Data Speaks: Preliminary Data on the Status of School Librarians in the U.S.” Teacher Librarian 48 (5): 30-31
Pinsker, J. 2019. The cult of homework. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/03/homework-research-how-much/585889/
Schaeffer, K. 2021. Among many U.S. children, reading for fun has become less common, federal data shows.
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/11/12/among-many-u-s-children-reading-for-fun-has-become- less-common-federal-data-shows/
Schatz, A., Pierce, K., Ghalambor, K. and Krashen, S. 2008. More on the “literacy crisis”: Do children like to read? Knowledge Quest 37 (1): 40-41.

Thumbnail photo by Marco Verch. Obtained via Flickr Creative Commons.

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