Guest Column: Do kids get the meaning of library theme?

June 4, 2014
Rockford-Public-Library

By Tim Hughes

It will soon be time for our public library to kick off its summer reading program, which for many kids means kicking away any real chance of discovering what a library is all about. This is because of library officials who labor under the impression you must appeal to kids’ high-interest instincts to get their attention. Consequently, kids at the summer reading kickoff party can bounce around in a bouncy tent, run an obstacle course, climb rock climbing walls, dance to D.J. music, munch on popcorn and cotton candy, get a free library summer reading T-shirt, and never have to go near that awful place where they have all those icky things called books.

I’m not against kids getting a free library T-shirt. In fact, I think it’s a great way to promote summer reading, but is it simply asking too much for kids to go inside the library, perhaps get an orientation of what’s available to them in the way of library services, and then be given a T-shirt? I find it disturbing that some library staff see nothing amiss for kids being enrolled in summer reading programs without ever having to set foot inside a library all summer long.

This year’s summer reading theme is “Paws for Reading,” which includes a campaign to obtain supplies for local animal shelters. This is an improvement over previous summer themes in which elementary school-age children were observed watching R-rated movies as part of the summer reading program, but still, what would be so terribly wrong with promoting reading for its own pleasure, and will children grow up thinking that the too-cute-for-words theme “Paws for Reading” is how you spell “pause”? The answer might shock you. And will younger children get the double meaning of the theme’s word play? It’s doubtful.

Tickets to Magic Waters and certificates to fast-food restaurants are offered as a lure to get kids to read. For older kids, there will even be a drawing for a limousine ride to a local restaurant and movie theater for themselves and five of their friends!

When adolescents as young as 13 can play video games at the library that carry a mature rating, meaning they couldn’t purchase these games in a retail store without proof that they are at least 18 years of age; limousine rides to restaurants and movie theaters are among the prizes for reading; and you don’t have to go near a library all summer to be part of its summer reading program, then something more than the roof of the library’s Nordlof Center is in need of repair.

Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

One Comment

  1. No Name

    June 4, 2014 at 10:36 am

    This is all so true! I work with several libraries throughout the Stateline area on various community events and they seem very caught up in ‘themes’. These themes rarely make sense to kids and the libraries tend to spend so much time relating things to the theme that they lose sight of what their real job is. So glad that someone wrote this article.

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