Thinking about Reading at the Eclectic City Library

A few weeks ago, flying home from a vacation, I decided to pass the time in the airport by walking. As I walked from gate to gate, I noticed that about nine out of every ten people were either talking on or looking at their smartphones.

Here we were in a huge venue with a multitude of no-doubt interesting people, but everyone seemed to be in their own technological “bubble,” alone in a crowd!

The Pollyanna in me hoped that some were reading a book on their Kindle or another app. And, full disclosure: When I travel, I generally read books on my phone or iPad, although I often find myself unable to pass a bookstore in an airport!

What this might have to do with school

In today’s world, it is critical for students to learn how to effectively communicate, verbally and through the written word. Yet recently, I heard a news report that found more than half of Americans read only one or two books annually.

I found that statistic troublesome, so this past weekend, I decided to take a “field trip” to the Eclectic City Library. Eclectic, Alabama is near Lake Martin, where my husband and I have a lake cabin. I thought it would be ideal to be able to visit the library on Saturdays when I’m there!

The Eclectic Public Library opened in 2010 inside the old city hall and jail. It serves about 2000 area residents. (Learn more)

I walked into the library and almost felt like I’d entered a time portal. Books were everywhere on shelves, in smaller rooms, stuffed in corners. Everything about the place was welcoming.

But, I was alone! I walked through the stacks and peeked into small rooms to no avail, until a side door opened, and two very friendly library volunteers greeted me. They were delighted to know that I wanted a library card and offered to give me a tour of the library and their annex, where the librarian teaches ukulele lessons on Saturday morning (for free) and where other events are held. They even have a gift store!

As they handed me my new laminated library card, I was told that if I couldn’t return the book on time to just call them and they’d extend the loan period. “Not enough people are reading, and we want to do everything we can to make it easy for anyone who wants to read!”

During my hour’s visit, I was the only visitor, and I noted that fact. They nodded but quickly pointed out that earlier in the morning they were quite busy. They even had a story-time for some local school children. They did, however,  bemoan that fewer people are reading these days and pointed to the stack of DVDs which are often more popular than the books. That and their computers and internet connection.

Some ways to encourage more reading

I can’t imagine not reading. As a student from Mobile’s George Hall Elementary told me  several years ago, reading takes us places we’ve never been, introduces us to ideas we may have never considered, and broadens our perspectives. Really. He told me that!


Those are the chief reasons why I’m an avid reader. I also find that reading is a great stress reliever and we could all use that. It’s actually a research-based science fact! Look at this article at the University of Minnesota website Taking Charge. In case you’re too busy to read it (smile), I’ll give you the key finding: A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods, such as listening to music or drinking a hot cup of tea.

I invite you to join me, not only in doing more recreational reading yourself, but becoming an advocate for having students read more. If you don’t think your schools have time for that, read this new post by principal Rita Platt, who believes her school’s Read, Read, Read policy explains why they’ve *eliminated* their reading gap among elementary kids.

Some ideas to encourage all of us to read more:

► Join Goodreads: Goodreads is a free social networking website for readers that allows them to keep track of the books they’ve read and to tag books that they might want to read in the future. You can follow friends on the website and see what they are reading. And, a good number of authors are also on Goodreads and you might find that they comment on a review you’ve written! I’m on Goodreads and would love to connect with you there!

A new Eclectic library user!

► Get a Library Card: It’s free and I’ve found that librarians are delighted to know that you are there to read a book and not use the computer! Many libraries have an online application that enables you to download books without a visit the library (although they love to see you in person).

► Join a Book Club: If you are not in a book club, consider starting one. Or, check with your library or local bookstore. Chances are they either sponsor a book club or know where you can find one. I’ve been in a book club for 15+ years and find it to be enriching, enlightening, and entertaining! Not to mention “friend-making.”

► Set a Reading Goal: Commit to reading a certain number of books per year. Even if you don’t reach your goal, I bet you’ll read more than you ordinarily do. Goodreads offers a “book challenge,” where you can set a goal and keep track of your progress.

► Trade Books with Friends: This idea can be challenging if most of your friends read books online. But, fortunately, I have friends who also like to hold a real book. And, I bet you do too!

► Give Books as Gifts: Consider giving family, friends, and relatives books as gifts. And, if you take some time thinking about what they might like and explaining to them why you selected it for them, it is almost like a double gift! When in doubt, a bookstore gift certificate is an excellent way to support books and encourage a relaxing visit.

► Give the Children You Know Books: No, it may not be as cool as a videogame, but you can help foster a lifelong love of reading. If you are lucky enough to have an independent bookstore in your town, the bookseller can make excellent recommendations. Or, if you need some tips, let me know and I’ll ask one of my grandsons who are all avid readers.

► Visit Bookstores: One of my favorite things to do in a city I’m visiting is to find out whether they have an independent bookstore and to visit it. My all-time favorite is Parnassus Books in Nashville. The booksellers are all knowledgeable and ready to help. I never leave Parnassus without at least two books under my arm! Another of my favorites was a combination bookstore and knitting shop in Apalachicola, FL, or the Book Mark in Jacksonville, FL.

► Listen to Audiobooks: When my editor John Norton read the first draft of this post, he asked, “What about audiobooks?” John (who has an Audible membership) listens on average to two audiobooks a week (mostly fiction) when he’s doing chores, walking his dog, or traveling. He sometimes lets his book “put me to sleep – picking up my story clears my mind and shifts me to a relaxed state. Provided I’m not listening to an international thriller!” British “cozy” mysteries work well before bedtime, he says.

John shared some statistics – nearly 30 percent of fiction readers now prefer audiobooks and about half are under the age of 35. Many teachers are finding reluctant readers become much more engaged when they can listen and follow along with the text. (Even pre-readers can enjoy audiobooks – John’s kindergarten grandson is halfway through the Harry Potter series!)

Search to find free audiobooks online or perhaps invite school supporters to give Audible credits to your library/class. And of course consult your school librarian about audio options. They’re the experts!

Whatever you do, read!

Reading is really about accessing knowledge and expanding our understanding. Whether it’s to gather facts and information – or insights into the human condition and our relationship with the world – reading continues to be the most important skill of all.

What’s your favorite way to read?