Recently, sections of the media reported on a Book Mobile Library following a donation from the Rotary Club to the National Library. This commendable initiative, as important as it is, may not have received more extensive coverage it deserves. That is understandable given its considered weak editorial weight when compared to current affairs issues, with the political situation the priority across all fronts. However, its importance must not be lost.
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 had 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 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 parents and children. Then, there was a prevailing passion for reading which was serviced by various bookshops within the city and 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 high schools during that period, most, if not all, text books needed were provided free by the Government making it easier for the children 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 will 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, it 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, in 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 will 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.