It’s a well-known fact: A child who develops a love of books and reading will recognize a lifetime of benefits.(1-4, 25-26) While children who visit the library to immerse in their favorite books may not realize it at the time, they’re building the skill of thoughtful reading—the foundation of critical thinking, academic success, and, eventually, a happy and productive adult life.(1, 2, 3, 4) As Charles Bayless has written, “For the majority of young people, enthusiastic and habitual reading is the single most predictive personal habit for the ability to achieve desirable life outcomes.”(3)
The U.S. Department of Education maintains that avid reading lays the groundwork for improved grades and acquisition of skills in school, and points to quantifiably better outcomes in adult life for children who read versus children who do not read, as measured by income, chosen profession, and employment.26
Now there’s growing evidence that when individuals embrace the “magic” of lifelong reading, the larger community also thrives. Families and entire communities reap the benefits. The International Literacy Association champions the cause of reading and articulates measurable impact in critical areas such as:
While impressive, these outcomes are not distributed equally to everyone who achieves literacy. They have the greatest impact on those individuals (and through them, their societies) who read frequently, on a wide variety of topics, and for extended periods of time.(9, 10) These avid readers develop the deep background knowledge to perform at a high level.(9, 11) The benefits are most striking when measured for individuals who are otherwise disadvantaged. Studies have indicated that access to books reverses the impact on reading scores associated with poverty.(5, 6, 7) Moreover, when students become avid readers, the achievement gap between students of color and their peers disappears.(14)
Independence and access matters, too
Research has repeatedly shown that children develop a love for reading when they can choose their own reading materials.(12) In fact, a single, brief exposure to good reading material can result in a lifelong love affair with books. Children of poverty typically have little access to books(8), yet current trends in literacy education focus on other issues such as digital literacy and early childhood learning styles. While important, these issues make little impact on igniting the minds of K-12 students with quality, relevant, and engaging books and content—the critical component for creating lifelong readers.
What can be done?
Public libraries, school libraries and classrooms can tackle the problem head-on through thoughtful collection development. Baker & Taylor and Kirkus Media recently launched an initiative (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/diversity/) that focuses on diversity across the fabric of society, from age and gender to ethnicity and lifestyle. Curated collections on disability, Latinx, LGBTQIAP+ and ethnicities enable libraries to address the needs of their communities for books that reflect where our society is today, with titles that invite young people, parents, and the wider community to read and discuss(23, 13). Through programs like Community Sharing, public libraries can partner with schools to provide these age-appropriate resources, greatly expanding student access to books both for school work and for the all-important independent reading.
Literacy makes for a better community for all
Community-wide literacy makes for a better community. We at Baker & Taylor and Follett are constantly encouraging children, parents, librarians, educators, companies and public institutions to support and enable reading, in and out of school by supporting family reading nights, book clubs and drop-everything-and-read type concepts. The products and programs we develop reflect this passion. The readers of this world have better outcomes for their own lives and become the people who generate ideas which lead to progress and innovation in solving the complex problems of our world. Will providing wide and uninterrupted access to books lead to a cure for cancer or solutions for the energy crisis or world poverty? It just might.