I’m in the mood to talk about reading again for a while. I blame going to all these librarian and book conferences! I always come back from them feeling like this. That’s how this blog got started, after all.
Today, I want to address the disconnection between the reader, the author, and the library. As I go to all these conferences, I am often invited to events where authors will speak to librarians. They are asked to include something about their memories of the library. We will, ultimately, hear two types of stories. First, the non-fiction or historical fiction author will talk about how critical a library was to their research. I LOVE hearing these stories because it connects the library to the writing process. Second, an author might talk about their childhood memories of their local library.
There have only been 2 times when an author has deviated. First, was Ann Brashares (who wrote Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) who told a story about her academic library in college and how she studied there. Second was Cory Doctorow (who wrote some good books including Eastern Standard Tribe) who talked about fighting to keep information free and copyright.
The majority of the authors talk about their childhood in libraries. It’s a nice ego boost to hear about how libraries shaped their childhood, but I see it as a problem. Where was the library when they were in middle school, high school, college, and adulthood? It doesn’t surprise me they don’t talk about it because its very likely that the library stopped playing a role in their life past elementary school. How do I know? Because I lived it myself and I have friends.
When I was a child we spent tons of time in the library. I always had library books and, for my family at least, we always got books from the library through my life. I discovered Stephen King, Sue Grafton, Pride and Prejudice, V.C. Andrews… and many more through our library. My friends didn’t spend anywhere near as much time at the library as I did. In elementary school we were always in the library. Not only was the the TV studio for the morning announcements there (which I did for years), but we actually had time in the library to find books. I read ALL the Boxcar Children books because of that. In middle school, my magnet program was in the same building as the library so we always used the library to work, to find books, and to work in the television studio (yes, this is something I did a lot as a child). I read all of Hadley Irwin’s books because they were in this library. You probably don’t recall, but I wrote about those books a while ago. In High School… I went to that library 3 times and only checked out 3 books because I *HAD* to check them out. The local library had a better collection of what I needed.
That was school and I was a library kid. I have used it extensively as an adult, but none of my friends used it after elementary school. Why? I am not entirely sure, but I think its connected to not going to the school library. In elementary school, even now, it’s a huge part of the experience. These librarians are the most engaged in the classroom experience of the children. In middle school and high school, the might go in once a year if they are lucky. These libraries struggle for money and collections. What happens at home though? Was the library simply something to do with children before they had school? Is it that libraries aren’t programming enough for different age groups? Is it that parents allow their children enough autonomy and kids don’t want to be at the library?
The key is that something happens before the end of elementary school and children stop going to the library. They stop associating the library with their reading habits. They don’t connect the library to their research process. This means fewer of them come back to the library as adults with their own children. What happens?
Tell me in the comments: do you recall when you stopped spending so much time in the library? Do you go now to get books or attend events? Why or why not?