When I went to bed last night, I already had today’s post outlined in my head. The only reason I hadn’t written it was I’d been doing line edits all day and was ready to switch off the computer when I came across a post which had quotes from agents about how they turn to social media to check out perspective clients. It seems these agents want to make sure someone coming to them for representation has already created a platform and had followers and, of course, hasn’t said anything that the agent didn’t agree with. I’m sure you can figure out my response to that. It was pretty much a resounding raspberry, especially if you consider that most authors looking for agents are new authors with little to nothing published already. But, sitting down to write the blog this morning, that went out the window when I saw another post, one that should not only worry but outrage every writer, every editor and every parent. Yes, this is going to be a rant.
As a writer, my ultimate goal is to get my books into the hands of readers, preferably readers who will pay for my work. As an editor, it’s pretty much the same thing. I support libraries because they are often the first place where our kids can go to see a variety of books and to explore titles and topics they’d never have access to otherwise. Our local library has a wonderful youth services department that makes sure it doesn’t ignore children of any age, starting with story time for the youngest of their patrons.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a library card. I can remember going to the library as a kid and coming home with so many books I’d have to have help carrying them in. I’d read them all and beg to go back to get more. Being able to read and escape to all those imaginary worlds helped form the foundation that I use now as a writer.
I remember the summer reading programs and contests. You know the ones I mean. You signed up and then reported back the number of books you read. The more you read, the better the prizes. Even though I’d have been reading anyway, those contests pushed me to read even more. It was called competition. Heck, up until last summer, I still took part in the summer reading programs at the library. My own writing and work deadlines are all that have kept me from participating the last two years.
So you can imagine my outrage when I saw a Facebook post about how a librarian told a reporter that one of the kids who uses the library where she works should step aside from their summer reading contest because he makes other kids drop out. No, he didn’t go around ripping books out of their hands. Nor did he call them names and act the bully, threatening them if they read instead of giving him their lunch money. This kid’s offense was that he read too much.
Yes, you read that right. He read too much and won the contest year after year.
It isn’t even that he read all that many books, at least not in my opinion. According to the source article, the kid read 63 books or slightly more than 10 a week during the length of the contest this last time. I don’t know about you, but when I was in the fourth or fifth grade (the age of the kid in question), I regularly read at least that many books per day during the summer — and I still had time to play outside and write my stories.
But the Hudson Falls Public Library Director sees that as a bad thing because this young man’s love of reading is discouraging to other kids. According to the article, she told the reporter that Tyler, the young man in question, “hogs” the contest and should “step aside”. WTF?
“Other kids quit because they can’t keep up.” That is her justification.
She doesn’t even consider that her own rules about the contest might be the reason why some kids drop out. This isn’t your standard “read a book, list it and at the end of the time period, whoever has the most books listed wins” sort of contest. Far from it, in fact. When a child reports that they’ve read a book, they are then required to pull a slip of paper out of a jar and answer the questions on the slip. The helps confirm that they’ve read the book.
Tyler could — and did — do just that. But the fact other kids wouldn’t or couldn’t and didn’t never entered into the director’s thought process in telling the reporter that the boy should step aside so others could win.
I that isn’t enough of a mind-twister, the director said she’d planned to change the rules so that “winners” were chosen by pulling their names out of a hat, not by how many books they’d read. She goes on to whine that she can’t now that the boy’s mother went to the press to tell them about her son.
I’ll admit, when I first read about this on FB, I figured it had to be a hoax. What librarian would try to deter a child from reading and reading voraciously? That’s why I went searching for the original article, the one I linked to above. Then I remembered what my son’s third grade teacher had been like. This was the woman who used reading as a punishment. I watched student after student, my son included, turn from avid reader to kids who had to be forced to pick up a book for pleasure. She saw no problem with making sure her students, especially her male students, never read again for pleasure.
Now I find myself wondering if she and this library director are related.
Or maybe the director has just drunk one too many times from the well of false equality. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one that has caused schools and leagues to quit keeping score in ball games. It’s the one that has stopped teachers from grading homework and lets students take tests over and over and over again until they get the grade they want. It’s the well that teaches our children there are no consequences to their actions or inaction.
There is nothing wrong with a little bit of competition. That competition might just impel a child to do something they might not otherwise do — something like read a book by an author they’d never read before — and lead to discover they enjoy doing it. There’s nothing wrong at excelling either. Something, unfortunately, too many people have forgotten.
My concern for the kids who use the library mentioned in the article is great. I am also concerned about the library aide who lodged her concerns with the library board. If the library director wants to discipline a child for doing well, what is she going to do to an aide who voices her disapproval, especially when that aide makes sense?
As a mother, I’m appalled by the statements of the director. If a child fulfills the requirements of your contest, you don’t penalize him because there are some who don’t. You should use his success as an example to the other kids. Try to motivate them to reach for his standard instead of forcing him to lower his standard. We should always strive for the highest common denominator and above, not the lowest. But that’s not the way of education these days and, apparently, not the way of at least this particular library.
As an author, I want to march into that library and, as my friend Wolfie would say, gobsmack her. You don’t do things to make kids not want to read. Quite the opposite, in fact. You try to find ways to encourage all kids, those who are avid readers and those who aren’t. If you want kids to read a lot of books, then you put your first prize as something they’d want. Believe me, they’ll read a ton of books and answer your questions if you offer them.
Maybe I’m off-base here, but I happen to agree with the boy’s mother. If the library director changes the rules of the contest to reward those who fail to put out the effort of her sons — yes, sons. Her younger son is also an avid reader — then she’s going to take them to another nearby library that doesn’t have that topsy-turvy view of reading. Good on the mom and good on the boys.
What do you think?