The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Lessons from Libraries: Words as Rewards

Library by flickr user thejester100

I believe in libraries.

It’s not an uncommon thing to believe now-a-days, with librarians getting more attention and programs like The Big Read surrounding us, but it’s not a mainstream idea, either. I think that should change.

When I was a kid, elementary school-aged, I participated in the summer reading program that my library ran. At the beginning of the program, when you were to sign up, you would receive a piece of paper with book titles embedded into little squares. You could get stickers and fill in the books that you had read---a sort of “Bingo” style reading game. Once you had three, you got your prize: coupons. There were ones for a free Happy Meal at McDonald’s, or ten percent off of shorts at a sporting goods store. I didn’t care about the coupons; I just wanted to read my books and get those stickers.

I loved that program; it made me feel like I was a part of something academic. In school, I was goofy. I did fine on my test and quizzes, but didn’t really care enough about receiving grades. I would bite my nails into stubs counting down the hours until recess, where I could run around and play soccer with the boys. Actual school didn’t mean much to me.

But when I went to the library I felt smart. I thought the librarians knew everything, and that every book had a secret inside, one that only people who came to libraries could know. It was a special place.

When I became old enough, a ripe age of almost 11, I was able to submit book reviews to the little print-out book that the Montgomery County Public Libraries had created---a tiny paperback containing book critiques and accolades, all from children. When I saw the new, 40-page copy in my library, and when I saw my name printed on the page, I was prouder than I had ever been. It was validation. I knew I had things to say, and I know that I could communicate them well; I had just never been given the opportunity to do so. My name and my words on that page told me that it was okay that I didn’t get into the magnet program for gifted students that all my friends had gotten into. The fact that I didn’t get in did not mean that I wasn’t as smart as they were; it meant that my talents were different. And finally I had proof.

The library was a place for me to explore fantastic new worlds, yes, but it was also a place that made me feel unique, worthy. It was the place that all my writing began. I’m not sure what I will end up doing with my writing, or with my life, but I know that the library is at the root of it all. I sincerely hope that the same experience can come from a Big Read event. Whether it is a book discussion that gets the gears turning, or a book-signing that inspires, or a workshop that helps to produce something you never thought you could make, go out there and take part. You’ll never guess how good it feels.

The Big Read programs are taking place all over the country; find your local events on The Big Read calendar.

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