As a teacher one of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that their children no longer read. Somewhere in the great migration from Primary School to High School reading drops off the radar. This sentiment is echoed by teachers, we know that it can sometimes be an uphill battle for students to read their prescribed texts let alone engage in reading for leisure. There are a multitude of possible reasons for this not the least of which is the busy schedules our young people now maintain between sports practice, community service and coaching. The internet is often singled out as a culprit for perceived decreasing attention span because information seems to be coming in smaller and smaller packages– think snapchats, tweets and status updates.
Loreto Library aims to be both a place of reading for learning and for pleasure. We are working on the development of our non fiction collection in order to reflect the NSW curriculum and bring students back to the possibility of books as research. The ubiquitousness of the phrase “google it” points to an unfortunate trend in young people seeking answers on the internet without thinking for themselves. In a recent article in the Times Higher Education visiting physics fellow at University of Bristol, Len Fisher, posits that books “drive and encourage readers to think for themselves in a way that just looking up answers does not”. He then goes on to argue that reading widely allows for “serendipity– spotting the unexpected, fascinating tidbit as you turn the pages or glance at the next book on the shelf”. We hope to encourage students back into the non-fiction stacks, to give them an understanding of the dewey decimal system so that they can compliment their online research with books and maybe even have a few serendipitous moments of their own.
I read that the Ancient Greeks inscribed “this is a healing place for the soul” above the library in Thebes. Even in our contemporary world that can so often seem cynical I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t subscribe the restorative powers of reading for pleasure. Indeed, last year The New Yorker ran an article entitled ‘Can Reading Make you Happier?’ in which they discussed the history of bibliotherapy, put crudely, the practice of prescribing books for what ails you. Interestingly, one half of the powerhouse behind contemporary bibliotherapy, Susan Elderkin, is in Australia at the moment as part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival. One of my favourite quotes from the New Yorker article is attributed to George Eliot (or for the literati among you Mary Ann Evans) who says that “art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.” Arguably reading gives us access to other worlds and the chance to truly step into someone else’s shoes. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the notion that reading making us better humans or not (and Loreto library certainly does), some studies have found links between young people reading and a managerial or professional job later in life, whereas things parents often scrimp and save for, like visiting museums and theatre, were found to have little impact on future career. Additionally, reading can reduce stress, improve mental sharpness and improve sleep quality.
At Loreto we are building a school wide culture of reading where all members of the community, staff and students alike, embrace reading. To that end we are encouraging everyone to read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure means stepping outside of the academic zone by reading a fiction book that isn’t school or work related for at least 30 minutes each evening. We hope that by making reading a habit both our staff and students will reap the benefits associated with reading. Another step toward creating a culture of reading has been the launch of the Premier’s Reading Challenge for Years 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Students returned from the Term One break to find the library transformed into a whimsical bedroom scene in order to build the connection between reading and the bedtime routine. We also borrowed the infamous wardrobe in playing on the idea that reading opens doors to new worlds. We wish all the challenge participants the very best of success in their reading endeavours and encourage them to contribute to the PRC blog in order to keep the conversation going and create a customised repository of book recommendations. The library will also open its doors overnight on Friday the 17th June for a sleepover for those girls participating in the challenge. We are excited for a fun filled evening and will send out details to participating students next week. Unfortunately we will only be able to accommodate the first fifty students to return their permission slips.So get in quick!
In other news, Year 11 Extension English students visited the Sydney Writer’s Festival on Monday where they heard a selection of writers talk about both their inspiration and their process. John Boyne who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas spoke about the interconnectedness of reading and writing, something the library affirms and actively seeks to encourage. We are running Write a Book in a Day on Thursday the 23rd June and have an unprecedented number of students signed up. They will be fundraising to support the Kids with Cancer Project and the books they create will go to the Children’s Ward to be read and enjoyed by children dealing with life threatening illness.
I leave you with a motivational video put together by the Loreto Library. Go ahead, borrow a book today!
Ms Liz Green
Knowledge and Learning Strategist