Building a library is fundamentally a hopeful endeavour. This hope is not based on a collection of books that are themselves hopeful. Hope is embedded deep in a collection that represents diverse perspectives and a breadth of human creativity. In bringing a collection together that gives voice to an array of ideas, beliefs and values, the fires of public discourse are fanned into life. Librarians will not enjoy, agree with or even like many of the titles hosted in the library but this is how it should be. The library does not represent the perspective of one person or institution but represents a diverse range of ideas that can be studied, examined, debated, disliked or loved. The library is a community space where the light of public scrutiny and discourse can wrestle with challenging concepts.
These ideas can often be found online in various forms however there is a profound significance in the analogue experience of picking up a physical book (notwithstanding the reality that there are a vast number of books that are not available online or if they are, they are hidden behind a paywall). These books represent a unique voice. Holding that physical book is like holding an idea in our hands – turning it over in our hands like we turn an idea over in our minds. We can collect an armful of books, sort them, organise them and study them in the same way that we organise our thoughts to come to conclusions and pose new questions. The library then, is a physical representation of thought and a provocation for growth.
From around the world the library brings together inspiration, passion, story, make-believe, imagination and controversy. From people – authors, illustrators, publishers, artists – who are passionate about their craft and deeply invested in delivering a unique experience for their readers. In this convergence that is the library, these creative acts are celebrated, debated, despised, loved, challenged and responded to, leading inevitably to learning and a broadening of perspectives. The library is creating space for discovery and growth. This is the hope of the library. Through the convergence of human expression, the library enables open access to a wider audience with the fundamental hope that learning and growth will be an inevitable consequence.
In the school setting and in stark contrast is the world of corporately manufactured readers, “education” apps and “personalised” online contrivances. Levelled readers have no place in this hopeful space because they are not written with creative passion or free expression in mind. As such, they do not inspire readers to read. They do not challenge perspectives. They do not pose theories that challenge the status quo. This would damage sales and limit distribution. Levelled readers are written based on calculations of word length, sentence length, and phonetic patterns – more like a colourful algorithm than a book. It is extremely unlikely that a levelled reader will present text that challenges the boundaries of genre, or pose an imagined dystopian world caused by dysfunctional governance, or challenge our concepts of gender, or reveal new understandings about sexuality, or simply to create an experience that lifts a reader into a new dimension of imagination and inspiration. In contrast, the librarian searches the world for the most compelling creations the world has to offer – and there is so much to draw on that the problem is not so much finding it, but not being able to get everything on offer. With such a wealth of human expression on offer and the means enabled through technology and global connections to bring these books into the library, there is no reason to even contemplate factory produced texts.
In leaving levelled readers behind, we may feel like we lose the ability to find the text that is just the right reading level for an emerging reader but this is no loss at all. Quite the opposite in fact. What is forgotten in levelling texts and the incorrectly named “personalised learning” packages is that reading is not just about decoding text. Even levelling authentic texts (books by real authors and illustrators) is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist (please read S. Krashen for more on this, 2001). Reading is so much more than just “accuracy, understanding, and fluency” as described by Fountas, Irene, and Gay Su Pinnell. Reading is the context, the memories, the emotions, the personal connections, the imagined worlds, the struggles – that is, reading is the human experience. It is this very human experience that is the reason the library represents hope. Hope for the marginalised, hope for the minority, hope for the unheard voices, hope for human creativity, hope for inspiration to solve the biggest challenges of our time, hope to find joy, hope to find new interests, hope to provoke deep reflection, and the hope for learning, growth and the continued development of our local and global societies.
In the context of a school, the significance of the library is amplified. In the present, the hope is that students find solace, growth and quality of life in what they encounter in the library. Beyond the present the ripple effect carries these hopeful outcomes into the future. This is the hope of the library.
- Lexile Wikipedia entry
- Reading A-Z levelling system, the company behind ReadingA-Z and their earnings report.
- Fountas and Pinnell levelled books
President Barack Obama “… I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”
“Reading literary fiction improves empathy. The types of books we read may affect how we relate to others.” — Scientific American, 2013
“Overall there is a relatively strong and growing range of research findings which show how and why reading for pleasure can bring a range of benefits to individuals and society.” — The Reading Agency, 2015 (well worth a read).