There's a common thought that reading should be for pleasure first and secondly, for knowledge. It goes along with the idea that if something is enjoyable to read, the reader will gleefully look for me books to read. There may be some truth to that for readers who already enjoy reading. However, for those who don't like to read, nothing will get them to enjoy reading. Not even incentives or prizes. This is too sad for any librarian to sit back and digest very well. After all, is not our profession which proudly and loudly advocates reading for everyone... anywhere? Which brings one to ponder should librarians bribe children to read? Does this lead to enjoyable reading for the children ? Summer is just around the corner and many libraries are planning reading programs for children, teens and adults. For many of these programs there are incentives given to participants to read all summer long. It's true that , Library Summer Reading programs have proven to help children keep their mind actives during the summer breaks from school. In many cases, reading skills either remain the same or improve when they return in September. This is a good thing for many reasons. However the question has to be raised, for the patron, not matter the age, who does not like reading even for pleasure, what does this program have to offer? A quick answer, would be nothing. A more thoughtful answer would be that it's a chore in order to obtain something they want. Best case scenario would be that the child turns into an avid reader. Worse case scenario, this could the young patron, whose parents have forced them to join the program and will someday be the library's most vocal adversary in the community. More than likely neither one of these scenarios will come to fruition, but finding a happy middle of the road solution would be great.
Librarians have to consider that incentive programs can have a negative effect on reading. For the child who does not want to participate or is forced to participate will only see reading as a tedious chore. The only good that can come out of this for them is the prizes or as referred to previously the bribe. Do not mistake this concern as a call to end Summer Reading programs Just the opposite. This is a call to remind librarians and administrators that reading should be a activity that is looked upon as enjoyable. Giving bribes to build up library's circulations numbers and pretend this also translates into reading love is just foolish.
It would be interesting to see if there would be a library who is willing to experiment with reading programs without incentives. Reluctant readers are the hardest to reach and the hardest to turn into book lovers. Perhaps the best thing way to go about advocating for reading is a Leave a Book/Take A Book program. No strings attached. All one has to do is to come to the library, leave a book they would like to donate and pick another book to take home. No need for check out. No worries about overdue fees. No need to finish the book either if the reader doesn't want. This program could work wonders in helping the patron find the right genre that is right for them. There is no time limit here to find the right book, the right author. No, just keep experimenting with different books until a genre or author is found that holds the key to unlocking the patron's inner reader. One can become a book lover at any time or at any age.
Perhaps it's time to look at Summer Reading Programs as the laboratory of reading where experiments go on everyday to find the right book for the hard to reach reader. Which fits in well with this years CRP theme, Fizz, Boom, READ. Just call librarians, Doctor Frankenstein. All that we would like to do is turn out one Monster Reader at a time. No matter what their age!