"Summer Reading, Public Libraries"

George Winner

August 13, 2007

I recently came across some statistics from the American Library Association. So I’ll take the opportunity to share a few of them as our young people begin winding up their summer vacations and thoughts turn, slowly but surely, toward a new school year:

-- Sixty-three percent of adults in America have a public library card;

-- Americans spend $30.49 a year for the public library -- about the average cost of one hardcover book. We check out an average of more than seven books annually;

-- Public libraries are the No. 1 point of online access for people without Internet connections at home, school or work.

All of the above reflect well on the importance of our public libraries nationwide, but perhaps most heartening was this one: More than 90% of the respondents to a 2006 poll conducted for the American Library Association expect libraries to be needed in the future, even in the face of the increasingly widespread availability of modern technology and its subsequent impact on how and where we get our information. Let’s hope so.

America’s former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, once said, "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest."

Earlier this year I participated in a celebration of the new Fred& Harriett Taylor Memorial Library in Hammondsport. It was an occasion to reflect on the significance of what has been a community institution for over 130 years, one that has now been remade into a public library for the 21st century offering everything from books to Internet service. So I was pleased to help celebrate and support the Fred& Harriett Taylor Memorial Library and to recognize its importance to the community’s cultural, educational and recreational interests.

It stands for all that a public library should be -- a community cornerstone.

The rise of the public library system may be a little overlooked as a decisive development in our nation’s history. Despite facing a host of challenges in communities across the land, the nation’s system of public libraries should always be regarded among the most vital of all of our public institutions. And despite all the modern advances and upgrades that so many public libraries have and will continue to undertake, its singular importance remains, in my view, is that it’s a place that calls us to read.

A study released last June by Scholastic, "Kids and Family Reading Report," found that the time children spend reading for fun rapidly declines after age 8 and remains in decline through the teen years. But the national survey also found that parents can have a direct impact on their childrens’ reading attitudes and habits, especially by reading more frequently themselves and helping children find books they like. One key finding revealed that more than three-quarters of children who report reading more books for fun "agree a lot" that reading during the summer helps them do better in school.

We tend to get so caught up in what’s newfangled and fashionable that it’s easy to overlook the tried-and-true staples of American society, the building blocks of our quality and success. Reading is surely one of them. And the public library is still the place that beckons us to read. It is still the place that receives especially high marks for being well-suited to help address key societal challenges including providing a meaningful, engaging and productive gathering place for teens, combating illiteracy and improving reading skills across the age spectrum. At a time when many wonder exactly what the future might hold for reading and traditional library services in an increasingly technology-driven society, it’s encouraging to note that Americans, overwhelmingly, continue to prize a public library in their traditional context.

So I’ll also take this chance to extend, one final time, the availability of a summer reading opportunity sponsored by the New York State Senate. Our annual program, which we promote through area schools, is geared toward young readers. This year it’s called the "Summertime Reading Passport." It’s a simple opportunity to encourage a young person to visit the library this summer, check out three books to read, record a few thoughts on each of them in a journal, and return the completed journal to my office to receive a certificate and bookmark.

If your child didn’t receive a copy of the Senate’s Summertime Reading Passport but would still like to participate, just contact my district office in Bath (776-3201) or Elmira (732-2765), or by e-mailby clicking below on CONTACT INFO.