Libraries and classrooms across the region have been particularly vibrant this month.
Public officials reading books to students, special visitors sharing their skills and stories, programs designed to make learning fun and interactive – all have been part of Reading Week.
The week on its face seems self-explanatory, a chance to highlight the importance of reading as a core part of students’ education and overall success beyond school. In an era increasingly defined by the ability to access incredible amounts of information virtually anywhere and anytime, however, Reading Week can be seen as carrying an added importance.
Those of us in the newspaper business are particularly attuned to the advantages and pitfalls of technology. Connecting more easily with readers and sources, extending the reach of our work, enhancing the overall experience of turning to the paper for news – all have been made possible through 21st century tools.
Yet there is still something special about picking up a paper, flipping and folding the pages, cutting out a story or photograph to display in a place of prominence. The tangible feel, the compact but comprehensive distillation of that day or week’s events – that cannot be fully replicated electronically.
So it is with books. Schools and libraries are, with the rest of society, embracing our digital culture in ways that open doors and create exciting new opportunities. Books can be borrowed on mobile devices. Students can complete assignments, and even be taught lessons, online.
Many of us can still recall a time before the Web and computing was so widespread, when accessing information required physical materials and more of a commitment in terms of time. It is easy to look at that era as inefficient and at today’s environment as exponentially improved.
But for all the hassle of sorting through the shelves to find a particular volume, the experience had its unique benefits. To sit down with a book, totally immersed, can be deeply rewarding. The feeling after finally finding a passage or citation, or reaching the end of a compelling story, is akin to scaling a summit or completing a voyage. The journey can be its own reward.
Students today have a broad range of demands on their time and attention – academically, socially, in extracurricular activities. Their lives are increasingly lived on the go. Their means of connecting with people and information are increasingly digitized.
Reading Week offers a chance to, if only briefly, halt that torrid pace and connect with a time – and an approach – that for many young people has little relevance in day-to-day life.
Finding the right book – let alone reading it – takes time and effort, whether for recreation or research. That may run counter to the prevailing contemporary attitudes and priorities. But the journey itself provides a lesson just as important as any found on a page.