Books still matter

June 17, 2008

Every summer, without fail, our library is inundated with kids who are participating in our summer reading program. Our program started yesterday and it’s been wildly busy at the library.  It’s a fun time to visit us, you’ll see neat decorations and many excited children.  Youth Services Librarian, Shelly Menzer does an incredible job putting the program together and is ably assisted by her amazing staff members as well as a crew of student volunteers who are second-to-none.

When I was a child, I was thrilled to receive a button that I could pin on my shirt to proclaim my status as a reader.  Kids don’t get as excited about those pins anymore, so the prizes tend toward more “hip” things.  But if you want to know the truth of it, it is still the books that get the kids excited. 

I’m always struck with joy when I see a little child beam about the books he or she has selected.  Hearing teens talk about Harry Potter reminds me of my love affair with the works of Susan Cooper and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but I read a lot as a child and teen.  I wasn’t particularly discerning then, I figured if it was in print, it had to be important.  One day my Aunt Loretta came for a visit and found me with a hair dryer in my right hand and a General Motors annual report in my left.   I think her words were something like, “Oh my, Connie, you’ll read anything.”  I think I was about 12 years old at the time. 

I never actually wondered if there was something wrong with me for loving words so much…although, now that I think of it, others certainly may have. (Aunt Loretta, bless her heart, never indicated that she was worried.  My parents encouraged my reading too.)   “Miss Kate”, the children’s librarian at Dwight Foster Public Library at the time, had lit that fire inside me and reassured me along the way by telling me on more than one occasion that reading was indeed a valuable life skill. 

It really is.  You can learn and grow in ways that are unimaginable.  You can be transported anywhere in the world.  You can use your time more productively.  You can simply escape, if that’s what you need to do. 

An intern from the Daily Jefferson County Union newspaper told me today that during our recent tornado warning she finished up the book she was reading.  What a great use of time, tucked away safely in the basement, reading a book!

If you hear someone predict the death of the book, be suspicious.  It’s true that information is made more accessible if it is online (assuming access to the Internet.)  I couldn’t agree more that SOME things are better produced electronically.  But a book is still a cheap, portable way to share a story.  Add great illustrations and a comfy lap and a you have the recipe for a life-long memory. 

When I think of it, a hair dryer in the right hand and a book in the left still works for me. (Only one electrical cord to worry about!)  These days, however, I’m not likely to be found reading the General Motors annual report while drying my hair.  With access to millions of titles via our library’s SHARE catalog, it’s easy to find something a bit more in entertaining and enlightening. 

At the end of the day, as a public library we are all about providing access…whatever the format.  But I do expect books will long have a prominent place on our shelves.  As we get set to plan our expanded library, you can know that we do have a deep commitment to books.   At the library we see, every day, the way people in Fort Atkinson feel about books.  STILL.   

One comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

    That moment when a child learning to master reading makes the connection between the written word and ideas is nothing short of magic.

    I also think there is an additional tactile connection with a book that is not available with electronic media. It might employ the connection of mind to hand in the human being. The texture of the page, the aroma of the ink or paper perhaps. I just don’t know but it’s there and it isn’t there on a computer screen.

    Libraries are treasures to be cherished and our staff are jewels…

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