Access to books: reading & mobile libraries

Just about a week ago, residents of a village on the West Coast of Demerara launched a mobile library with the concept of “bring a book take a book”. Over the years, there have been numerous book mobile libraries and, moreso, there was one donated by Rotary Club to the National Library. These are commendable initiatives.
A few decades ago, book mobile libraries, an extension service of the National Library, were scheduled fixtures in parts of the country. The targeted age group of children from out of town who didn’t have access to the National Library looked forward, once a week in many instances, to the arrival of the vehicle laden with a variety of reading materials, be it a pop-up fairy tale, a simple fiction, or something considered more intense for that grouping.
Entering the vehicle evoked a tremendous sense of excitement, after having waited patiently in the orderly lines. The process, accommodated by courteous and helpful staff, was very simple; borrow a book, read and return by the next visit. Crucial to the success of the service was an interest in reading, developed by both the parents and children. Then there was a prevailing passion for reading, which was serviced by various bookshops within the city and by paid book-lending stalls in some municipal markets.
Access to books was therefore not a major issue; affording was a different matter. Also, for many during that period, most, if not all, high school text books needed were provided free by the Government, making it easier for the children and allowing for more focus. Friendly reading competitions became popular, and probably can be equated to a social media challenge today.
Then children raced for bragging rights as to who first read a particular edition of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or the Alfred Hitchcock series. Finishing a series propelled one to the top of the “award podium”. Also popular fictions were the Marvel comic books, Tintin, Archie, Axterix, Mills & Boon, Louis L’Amour, Enid Blyton, to name a few. Inevitably, there were instances when some were caught up in a good book, and teachers had to intervene for the focus to be shifted to studies.
It was all in good stead, as teachers were not as challenged then to get children to read. Interestingly, despite the competitiveness, books were shared among peers, clearly after the holder had the first go. In addition, the children almost seamlessly balanced their school work with their reading passion. Of course, it wasn’t every child, but, by in large, a fairly high number.
One can argue that the children then were not exposed to the plethora of technological devices, as evident today. A similar argument can be made about evolutionary advances and the impact on all, including children and their passions. Some have put it bluntly that, as a result of these advancements, more distractions are therefore created today when compared to the past, citing the lack in variety then.
Others would posit that despite the absence of technology-related activities, the children in the past played a variety of folk games as part of the process of enjoyment and passing time. Obviously, while there are compelling arguments from both sides, there is the general concern that the passion for reading has drastically waned, and that today’s children are not reading; either enough or at all. When they do appears to be confined to just what needs to be done school-wise.
Again, this is not suggesting every child, as clearly some are involved in extensive reading. Technology, however, does facilitate reading, and even the option of listening to a book. Of course, many would be financially challenged to access, but the bottom line is the option to read is part of the technological evolution. That said, some are adamant in their belief that the very technology is responsible for the seemingly scant interest in reading.
Many are of the opinion that one consequence of that said evolution is the reduction in the number of bookstores and book stalls in some markets. Given that, it may not be inaccurate to state that fewer books are now available today for access. One can easily state that’s an indication of the decline of interest in reading; however, it may be as a result of the impact of technological advances on related businesses.
Whatever the reasons, the book mobile library is an important small step, not just to reach persons who may not have access to books, but one to inspire and drive interest in reading. While it would be challenged by the more attractive technological options, it needs to be encouraged for possible expansion to other areas. The benefits of reading may need to be reminded of, and maybe through a national effort, to build the worth of the simple but significant action of fingers turning pages.
The National Museum had, in the past, provided exhibits of preserved animals and birds, along with basic information to some schools. That not only expanded knowledge, but created a sense of expectation of what the next would be. That book mobile library has similar potential.