There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. –Ursula K. Le Guin
Isn’t it interesting how the very thing you need simply falls into your lap at just the right time? This happened to me recently. I was skimming through the August 2018 BookPage when I stumbled upon Robert Weibezahl’s review of a book, entitled by neuroscientist and literacy expert MaryAnne Wolf. I’ve probably ignored other books on this topic in the past, but some recent statements that have been made to me, that in one way or another suggest that “no one is reading”, caused me to take pause at this review.
The potential for the demise of reading and books has been pronounced for decades, and I’ve never really worried about it before. After all, I am reading. My children are reading. I meet people of all ages every day who tell me about what they’re reading. Books continue to be published. People are borrowing hundreds of thousands of books from our library every year. According to a recent Pew Survey, 75% of people read a book in the past year. Some, if not arguably many of us, are reading.
But, it’s occurred to me recently that the issue is something far greater. Simply put, what does it mean for our society, our democracy, our humanity, if there comes a time when this statement becomes true? What would it mean for our ability to analyze, empathize, to develop truly knowledgeable experts, to maintain an informed citizenry if no one is deeply reading?
I turned to Wolf in the hopes that she had some answers. Reader, Come Home had not yet published (and I am destined to sit on a waitlist anyway) so I downloaded her previous work Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (always available to you on Hoopla audio; yes, I realize the irony of listening to a book that is about the reading brain). What she purports is that the brain on the printed word functions very differently from the more synopsis-based online content and there are attributes built up by the reading brain that we very well may not want to lose. Objectively researched, Wolf’s book takes us back thousands of years to the first written languages. She reminds us that every new medium of communication affects the previous one (Socrates lamented the advent of the printed word as a threat to oral culture). I’m now at the point where she explains the power of reading to emergent readers, and the positive effects that has on a child’s vocabulary as well as social and emotional development. This is something that we, in the library, and many of you, already understand very well.
While reading remains essential, it would be unwise to ignore the many other ways that we learn, through audio, visual and hands on methods. The future of the library is a center for all learning, a place for everyone not simply readers. In Upper Dublin, the library proposed for the 520 Virginia Drive property is poised to be a place for the community to convene, collaborate and create. Discussion of this project will continue tomorrow night (August 14) at the Board of Commissioners’ meeting. The meeting begins at 7 pm and will be televised on Comcast channel 22 and Verizon channel 21.