LIBRARY and information professionals island-wide are gearing-up to celebrate National Library and Information Week next week (from April 20 to 25) under the theme ‘Library and Information Services on the Move: Creating Unlimited Possibilities’.
But just as I started wondering, I realized I’m not the only one here worried about an apparent loss of national appetite for reading and the growing disappearance of bookshops. (Clement Wulf Soulage had an interesting article in the last Weekend VOICE on the matter as well.)
I had again been jaded into thought about the strong evidence of dwindling interest in reading last Friday. My lifelong professional friend and colleague Rickey Singh was here for a short stay and before heading to the airport to return to Barbados, he’d asked me to take him to a bookshop.
I told Rickey bookshops were disappearing fast over here. The best known and most frequented ones had either closed down or greatly down-sized. Local agents were no longer importing English and American newspapers and magazines. TIME Magazine is only available on order – and Newsweek no longer prints. I used to get daily copies of The Times of London, but that stopped two or three years ago.
Somewhat apologetically, I took Rickey and his accompanying grand-daughter to Valmont’s Bookstore, which has relocated from Jeremie Street to inside the main general store. The books were many, but not what I know Rickey normally looks at or for. It was just after official closing time, so we bought a few books, but more out of kindness than satisfaction.
Yes, reading is becoming increasingly less of a hobby here.
Some professionals are concerned that reliance on information technology and use of abbreviated ‘texts’ to shorten words are having negative side effects and preventing young persons from reading.
Others argue, however, that parents — and the education system generally — have failed to encourage young Saint Lucians to avoid allowing information technology to kill their appetite for reading.
I don’t think I yet know or understand where the problem started or where it lies now, but I do know that I can’t get even adults my age to read something longer than a paragraph.
Advances in radio, television and video over the years reduced dependence on reading newspapers for news or entertainment. The latest advances in phone technology have also resulted in immediate transmission of information from anywhere around the world in actual time, again lessening the dependence on reading traditional news and information sources.
Books?Newspapers?Magazines? They’re all becoming footnotes of history. Not even comic books attract children anymore since cartoons came to local TV. The major newspapers are publishing more complimentary (free) magazine inserts on youth, sports and entertainment to attract and keep readers.
I’ve heard reference to the government’s efforts at digitizing the classroom by replacing books, pens and pencils with computers and hard drives contributing to taking students away from reading, but I don’t necessarily agree, as they still have to read what’s on the screen.
What I will agree, however, is that the tendency to use ‘tech speak’ to send brief messages by phone (through Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook and twitter, etc) can dissuade the unthinking person – particularly the very young — from even caring about proper spelling of words.
My seven-year-old grand-daughter is about to turn eight and she’s already my key IT advisor, showing me how to navigate my regular smart phones, my i-Phone, my iPad, my iPod and my tablets. She can spell well, but she simply dislikes being told to read and write. She will and she does well, but has to be told to. She’ll do her homework with a frown and in a hurry and she’ll bluster every time she’s told to ‘Do it again!’ until she gets it right. But she just doesn’t like that reading thing – not as yet.
But it’s not only children. I gave one of my older sons’ friends a newspaper with a striking front page photo and asked him to read the single-paragraph caption, hoping he’d sense the craftsmanship of the wording. He simply smiled, put both hands in his pockets and told me: “You read it already Mr Bous, so tell me what it is, nuh!”
Yes, I feel we’re in deep doo-doo when it comes to reading. My father raised me telling me every day “Reading makes the man.” That made me who I am. But I just can’t get my kids and their generation to understand the depth of meaning of these four simple words.
Now, let me go read what fellow reader Clement Wulf Soulage has to say about all that…