Friday, May 17, 2013

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

     I have worked as a children's librarian in all sort of libraries, big and small, urban, suburban and rural, rich communities and poor communities. For the past few years, I have had to ask myself the unhappy question - Where have all the readers gone?

     In every type of setting there once were dedicated child readers, those children who came in on a weekly basis and left with a large stack of books. And let me emphasize this part - a large stack that they picked out by themselves. They were the book lovers who roamed the shelves, picked out books, read first pages, and chose. They rarely needed my services, except for me to expertly keep the shelves stocked with well written books, because they were perfectly capable of figuring out that they wanted to read.

    They seem to have disappeared.

     What has replaced them is their parents, armed with lists of "best" books, and no others will do, that they choose for their children who are, for example, in "first grade but read at the sixth grade level". They will decide what their children read, and when and how many pages per day. Whether any of these books are ever read or enjoyed I do not know. I never see the children. They are pushed, motivated by parents readers who read as an accomplishment rather than as a pleasure.

    Or I see a child who comes to take out one book, that his friend or his teacher has told him about.
Only the one book. No other will do as no one has told him about any other. They will read and they will enjoy this one book, or say that they do. But will they continue with a joy in reading? Again, I do not know.

     The picture book shelves are packed because nothing gets checked out. Modern parents are not aware of the old adage about a picture book being a child's first art gallery. If they ask for anything, it is Franklin or Dora, fine, but definitely not an art gallery. Or they bypass the picture book section completely, somehow they have been told that the contents are too babyish for their advanced children. They take them straight to the beginning readers. I love beginning to read books, but they are for beginning readers to read to themselves. It's not the same as picture books, designed for parents to read to their children. Designed with a nod to wonder, to enchantment, to childhood. They sit, their beautiful contents unrevealed.

     The computers are busy. Educational games, a plus. They are not the same and they do not, can not, replace books.

     Where have all the readers gone? Far far away, and not to the land of Oz. Just to a reality that is packed with action and short on wonder and dreams. They may never return, and the saddest part is that they won't even know how much they have missed.