Books have always been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My earliest book memory is of Babar and his adventures in Paris. I can also remember reading Enid Blyton adventure books when I was a child in Scotland in the mid to late 1940s. I am sure my teachers in the pre-school and Junior School at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen fed my appetite for the printed word.
My mother and I left Scotland in the late 1940s and settled in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the first things remember about living in Memphis was getting a library card. The public library (pictured below) in Memphis at that time stood on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Since my mother worked in a department store only a block from the library, I often visited the Cossitt Library as well as checking out books from my school libraries.
Six years later, between my junior and senior years in high school, I was hired as a shelver in that same library (Page was what it was called then.) I worked part-time through college and was hired full-time at the Main Library when I graduated.
I think reading is important not only because I have worked in libraries most of my life. I have read, either for school, work or for pleasure, all that time. Working in universities both an instructor and librarian I have seen first hand what happens when students graduate from high school without proper reading skills.
Niall Ferguson, a British historian who teaches at Harvard, recently wrote, “The good news is that today’s teenagers are avid readers and prolific writers. The bad news is what they are reading and writing are text messages.”* My wife and my children exchange text messages; but we, like Mr. Ferguson, read books and write in regular English elsewhere. He points out, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, barely 50% of Americans between the ages of 18-24 read for pleasure. Ferguson states, and rightly so, “…children who don’t read are cut off from the civilization of their ancestors.”
Alice Ozma tells about how she and her father read aloud every night from the time she was in the fourth grade until she graduated from high school. A pledge to read for 100 nights turned into a much longer committment for both and her school librarian father, as she writes about in The Reading Promise. Ozma followed up her book up with a blog on her web site http://www.makeareadingpromise.com. in which she urges readers to follow the example set by her and her father.
Ferguson urges parents to take their children, especially teenagers, to some place far from a wireless connection, with a pile of good books and have a “book camp.” But we adults get attached to our electronic gadgets too, instead of reading. We communicate with our “friends” throughFacebook or other social media sites, instead of writing letters. We no longer read maps because we have a gps gadget in our car to guide us where we want to go; no matter it can lead us in the wrong direction, especially here in the mountains.
Instant communication is not new. Abraham Lincoln used sit in the telegraph office in the War Department during the Civil War, so he could instantly communicate with his generals in the field. Bell invented the telephone, which used to require wires to communicate. We are raising children who will never know what a world without computers, playstations, cell phones, ipads, Kindles, etc. is like, unless we shut those gadgets off and put books in their hands and ours too.
* – Naill Ferguson, “Texting Can U Stupid,” http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/11/how-will-today-s-texting-teenagers-compete.html