It was my last library period before spring break in grade 3. I usually only signed out library books for a few days, reading them surreptitiously under my desk while the teacher yammered on. The librarian approached me and said, “We just got this new Almanac of Birds in. You should take it home and read it over Spring Break.”
“Sure” is what I may have said, but I remember being somewhat dumbfounded. I didn’t (and don’t) care much for birds.1 We had shelves full of books at home, and until this point, library books seemed somehow sacrosanct. But now I’d been entrusted with a book that didn’t even have a card in it yet.
I remember almost nothing of the book,2 but the feeling of a crisp new book that wasn’t even mine remains. It wasn’t a thin book, but I read and browsed through it several times over that week. In my first post-spring break library period, the librarian treated it like no big deal when I handed the book back, even asking if I wanted to sign it out for longer. I stammered that I’d read it thoroughly and moved on to a new Hardy Boys book.
I relate this vignette not because of any inherent charm, but rather because it contrasts against the experience of eight-year-olds today. Let’s just imagine that most of their reading happens on some gamut of smartphones, tablets and/or desktops. They may not even have a library period at school. Or a library. If they do, what about in ten years? 20 years? Will they ever feel the wonder of being entrusted with a crisp, brand new book? Could receiving a heretofore unknown URL compare?
The point here isn’t so much that my childhood embodied the Platonic Form of Developing Love For Reading. Rather, I wonder how this world of multi-functional-devices-on-which-you-can-also-read will inculcate a love of reading? I seldom took library books home because I read them in a dedicated library period in which you were physically incapable of doing anything else.3
What if I lived in age where a library period consisted of time spent on multi-functional-devices-on-which-you-can-also-read? There’s a good chance I would have screwed around, circumventing to the best of my ability the Internet filters in place attempting to keep me focused on Serious Learning. Would I have learned habits of reading a single text at length over a solid period of time?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions trying to bemoan the current state of affairs. We always complain that things are moving too fast. I sincerely don’t know how “kids these days” will develop a love for reading, let alone the ability to read at length with sustained concentration. This doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t: most kids my age didn’t either.
I have to hope that, no matter the learning medium, insatiable curiousity will win out; that the pursuit of knowledge will always trump distractability, and that as romantic as libraries may be, they merely encode this drive towards learning, but cannot contain it.
- Some people, on the other hand, are too into birds. ↩
- I only recall looking at the entry on blue jays frequently, being a Canadian and enamoured of baseball. ↩
- And, as mentioned earlier, I also often read under my desk in class. I was occasionally caught, at which point I suspected my teachers were secretly delighted. I doubt under-the-desk tablet computers would evoke the same sentiment. ↩