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Building a nation of readers Building a nation of readers
by Joseph Gatt
2021-03-16 10:33:41
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Over the last decade or so, people in wealthy and not-so-wealthy nations have asked me “how do you encourage people to read?”

So I just had my Eureka moment.

The reading cycle goes like this:

rea01_400Doing homework at the library → Consulting books at the library to help with homework → borrowing books from the library for pleasure reading → developing favorite authors and topics and purchasing their books at the book store when you can't find the books at the library.

Let's break these down.

Doing homework at the local library

That's where some of our parents did their homework. That's where a lot of our grandparents did their homework.

But our generation relies on Google to help with homework, and mostly does homework at home on laptops, and consult Google and YouTube tutorials to help with answers.

Plus, a lot of libraries are a little archaic and don't allow laptops and typing, because typing “makes noise.”

So you can't get the virtuous cycle of forming a nation of readers, because kids don't go to libraries.

Doing homework at the library should be encouraged. For that you need three things. You need teachers to give students homework. You need the homework to be intellectually challenging. And you need students to have access to a library.

So libraries need to “live in the century” and allow laptops and typing, and provide Wi-Fi access. And teachers need to bring back the tradition of giving students something called “homework.” And teachers need to check that homework is being done, perhaps grade homework.

Consulting books at the library to help with homework

Of course YouTube tutorials are excellent. Especially for math and the sciences. And Google has a lot of answers to a lot of questions.

But if teachers bring back the tradition of giving challenging homework to the students, the kind of homework where students need to consult books to write papers or solve problems that would lead to more reading among students.

Right now teachers either give very easy homework, or give no homework at all. Or they don't check that homework has been done. Nor do they bother grading homework.  

And, often times, teachers themselves don't read that much (not all of them, many teachers are heavy readers). So teachers need to give the kind of homework that will lead to students consulting books.

Borrowing books from the library

Once the middle school, high school or college student makes the library his or her second home, eventually, inevitably, they will borrow books.

At first, they might have trouble reading them or finishing them. But over the years, when the library becomes a second home, they will start finding the kind of books they love and will try to finish them.

Purchasing the books of your favorite authors or on your favorite topics at the book store

Over the years, students are going to have favorite authors and favorite topics, and those books won't be available at the library.

That's when they head to the book store the purchase the books.

Book stores OR Online book stores?

When people have a clear title in mind, they head to Online book stores.

But, sometimes readers have an interest on a certain topic. Let's say that they are fascinated by Indian culture. They might head to the book store and purchase all the books about India that they will find.

They will avoid Online bookstores because the choice tends to be so vast that they could be tempted to “bite more than they can chew.” So they could head to the book store instead, where the choice of books is more limited.

Why would people want to read?

Reading is a very healthy activity. We all have existential questions that we ponder, things that bother us. Or we look for inspiration. Or we want to get to know a topic better. Or we have professional ambitions and believe books will help us reach our professional goals.

So perhaps this kind of policy could work if you want a nation of readers. Give challenging homework. Encourage kids to do their homework at the library. Soon enough you get a nation of readers.

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