The Conversation: “…How often do we hear that libraries aren’t just about books anymore? They are makerspaces with 3-D printers, scanners, laser vinyl cutters and routers. They provide green rooms, sewing machines, button makers, and tools like drills, saws and soldering irons. They are places to borrow seeds, fishing rods, cake making supplies, binoculars, laptops and tablets, radon detectors, musical instruments, bicycles and take-home wifi hotspots. They are important sites for learning with services dedicated to today’s newest literacies — coding, gaming, robotics and how to spot fake news. There are consequences of these ideas and news that push books and reading to the margins in the commentary on the latest trends in public libraries. One such consequence might be the disavowal of public librarians’ unique, professional knowledge base related to books and reading. Another might be the abdication of a mandate related to the promotion of reading as a social good. Today’s libraries do build community, support healthy living, promote knowledge and provide space for city sanctuaries. But it is critical that libraries continue to be about books and reading, and that Canadians understand the high value of well-staffed, well-stocked and well-funded libraries. The news isn’t that library services and programs have moved beyond books, it’s that public libraries are still very much about books.
There are so many reasons why reading matters. As UCLA literacy scholar Maryanne Wolf so compellingly argues, learning how to read and the habits of deep reading connect in important ways to brain circuitry related to our capacities for critical thinking, empathy and reflection. Reading matters for the ways our brains develop, and being able to read deeply affects the way we think and feel. This has consequences for how we live our lives, but also for how we make judgements about the world and our places in it. The habit of reading carries many other rewards, among them improved language acquisition and other literacy advantages, as well as therapeutic benefits related to mental wellbeing. We know that reading brings comfort to readers. One large-scale study even found that people who read books also live longer lives in which to read them. In my research I’ve interviewed young adults about the role of reading in their lives. They told me that reading helps them to explore and understand their identities. It allows them to exercise autonomy and independence. Reading gives them knowledge and experience of the world which, in turn, shows them new possibilities for their own lives…”