From the Smithsonian magazine:
Growing Up Surrounded by Books Could Have Powerful, Lasting Effect on the Mind
A new study suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas
By Brigit Katz
OCTOBER 12, 2018
Research has already suggested that opening a book may help improve brain function, reduce stress, and even make us more empathetic. Now, a team led by Joanna Sikora of the Australian National University is looking into the benefits of growing up around a book-filled environment; as Alison Flood of the Guardian reports, the researchers’ expansive new study suggests that homes with ample libraries can arm children with skills that persist into adulthood.
The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).
Respondents, who ranged in age from 25 to 65, were asked to estimate how many books were in their house when they were 16 years old. The research team was interested in this question because home library size can be a good indicator of what the study authors term “book-oriented socialization.” Participants were able to select from a given range of books that included everything from “10 or less” to “more than 500.”
The surveys, which were taken between 2011 and 2015, showed that the average number of books in participants’ childhood homes was 115, but that number varied widely from country to country. The average library size in Norway was 212 books, for instance; in Turkey, it was 27. Across the board, however, it seemed that more books in the home was linked to higher proficiency in the areas tested by the survey.
The effects were most marked when it came to literacy. Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels. Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off. The researchers observed similar trends when it came to numeracy; the effects were not as pronounced with information communication technology tests, but skills did improve with increased numbers of books.
So, what are the implications of the new study? Take, for instance, adults who grew up with hardly any books in the home, but went on to obtain a university degree in comparison to an adult who grew up with a large home library, but only had nine years of schooling. The study found that both of their literacy levels were roughly average. “So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes up for a good deal of educational advantage,” the study authors write.
Further research is needed to determine precisely why exposure to books in childhood fosters valuable skills later in life, but the study offers further evidence to suggest that reading has a powerful effect on the mind. And so home library size might be important because, as the researchers note, “[c]hildren emulate parents who read.”
From the New York Times:
Anti-Tax Fervor Closed Their Libraries. Now Residents Are Trying to Go It Alone.
By Kirk Johnson, Oct. 17, 2018
DRAIN, Ore. — All the county libraries closed in this wooded corner of Oregon when the money ran out. But believers in the power of books rejected that fate, and in town after town they jumped back into the book-lending business on their own. Or tried to.
The tiny library in Drain, population 1,000, scheduled a grand reopening party this fall after more than 18 months of darkness, but party planners had a problem as the date loomed: The library didn’t own any books. Fifty miles away, Reedsport’s librarians couldn’t get access to the old list of library card holders, so they may have to build a new system from scratch. And in the city of Roseburg, a new library is preparing to open with no plans to share materials with other libraries around the county, breaking a tradition of sharing that goes back generations.
“It’s every library for themselves, and you don’t know where it’s going to lead,” said Robert Leo Heilman, a volunteer at the town library in Myrtle Creek.
The long, steep decline of the timber industry in southwest Oregon starting in the 1990s brought lean times to local governments. Then came newcomers and retirees, who were just fine with that. Low taxes and skepticism about government became part of the culture, and in Douglas County, a majority of voters in 2016 rejected a modest property tax increase to keep the 11 county libraries alive.
But anti-tax sentiment has turned out to be a patchwork in this county, which is about the size of Connecticut, with just over 100,000 residents. In recent months, some communities voted to pay to reopen or support a town library, while others insisted that volunteers alone would suffice. The result has been more tumult: A split between rural parts of the county, which mostly rejected higher taxes, and urban parts; an us-versus-them battle over who now gets to borrow library books; and general chaos, as people try to figure out the mechanics of running an institution that had long been the purview of local government.
Douglas County, deeply Republican in a Democrat-leaning state, has the fourth lowest property taxes in Oregon, according to state figures, and a county library tax would have added about $6 a month for someone with a median priced home. There are also pockets of rural poverty in towns like Glendale, population 800, where a branch library was kept afloat in the old days by a countywide sharing of resources. But ever since voters rejected the library tax and the libraries were shuttered in early 2017, homemade efforts to reopen them have cropped up.
“It’s keeping me awake nights,” said Betsie Aman, a substitute teacher and volunteer at the library in Glendale, which reopened for 12 hours a week as a nonprofit corporation with an all-volunteer staff. Among a core group of women who led the effort, three have withdrawn because of illness, advancing age or fatigue. “We’re getting kind of burned out,” Ms. Aman said.
Legal and logistical issues have made the struggle harder. Douglas County retained everything in the stacks, from books to videos, making it difficult for local groups to take legal possession. Some of the small groups are hashing through questions they never needed to think about before: grant applications, training, even rules about family leave and retirement.
The Roseburg library is reopening this year in a smaller space carved out of its original building.CreditAmanda Lucier for The New York Times
“You don’t often get a chance to build something from scratch,” said Kris Wiley, the library director in Roseburg, who arrived in Oregon three months ago and will head a staff of three paid employees and the more than 50 volunteers she says will be needed.
Roseburg’s City Council used money from the city’s general fund to help restart the library. In two other small communities, local versions of the county library tax that failed in late 2016 were put on the ballot this year and passed by residents, creating new public money for reopening libraries.
In Drain, the tax increase was exactly the amount that county voters had rejected, and it won 76 percent of town voters in an election in May. After a long negotiation with the county, the library in late September finally got ownership of the books that were already inside; the reopening party is scheduled for early November.
Sandi Malchow, a restaurant owner, had not voted in the countywide vote the first time around. “The second time, I definitely did, and I voted yes,” said Ms. Malchow, who said she was struck by the effect she saw on children and teenagers in town, who had used the library as an after-school hangout, especially on dark, rainy winter days.
Not everyone will now have free access to the libraries, however.
Roseburg, for example, the county seat and home of the former central library, will charge $60 a year for a library card to anyone living outside city limits. (Students in school in the city will get free privileges no matter where they live.)
“Our first obligation at this time is to the citizens of Roseburg who are funding the operations,” said Ms. Wiley, 46, who was recruited from Minnesota, where she ran a local library.
Roseburg’s city manager, C. Lance Colley, said the City Council saw that voters in the city favored the library tax, and voted to appropriate money to reopen a new library on that basis. The new fees on rural residents who rejected the tax is a simple statement of democracy, he said.
“People in Roseburg still want a library and were willing to pay for it,” Mr. Colley said.
New boundary lines for sharing books between libraries are also stirring resentment. Small libraries will no longer have access to Roseburg’s bigger collection.
“So much of what was in that building was provided by the entire county,” said Valarie Johns, a board member of the Drain special library district, about 25 miles north of Roseburg. “There’s a lot of anger about that.”
The demise and rebirth of the libraries is a continuing story — as well as a powerful motivator, Ms. Johns said.
“When they were closed, it was easier to get people on board saying, ‘We’ve got to have them back,’” she said. A sign on Drain’s soon-to-reopen library bore a simple message the other day: “Thanks voters.”
From the News-Review, Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Douglas County Library Foundation has approved $20,732 in grants. The money will go to eight of Douglas County’s public libraries, and to the Douglas Community Library Association.
Libraries in Glendale, Myrtle Creek, Winston, Sutherlin and Yoncalla will collectively receive $10,460 for their summer reading programs for children, library foundation member Bob Heilman said Tuesday.
Other grants will help boost technology at three local libraries. Those include $1,672 for Canyonville Library computers, $1,000 for new equipment at the Glendale Library, and $2,600 for website development at the Sutherlin Library, Heilman said.
The Douglas Community Library Association, which provides services to most of the county’s libraries, will receive $5,000 to pay for e-book downloads.
A grant request from the Reedsport Library had been tabled until next month’s library foundation meeting, pending the outcome of the election on the library district there. Voters approved the district May 15.
Libraries in Drain and Roseburg received no grants since neither city has reopened its library. The city of Roseburg plans to reopen its library following renovations, and recently appointed a library commission. Drain voters Tuesday approved formation of a library district.
Heilman said the library foundation will offer more grants this autumn.
The Douglas County Library Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization that provides support for all of Douglas County’s libraries. It was created in 1982 to raise money to build the former Douglas County Library System’s Roseburg branch on Diamond Lake Boulevard.