When Andrew Albanese invited me to contribute to Publishers Weekly six years ago, I was thrilled for the opportunity to share my thoughts and perspective on all things library. I’ve been incredibly proud of my affiliation with the magazine, and I am thankful to Andrew, who has served as my editor and colleague, for the chance to contribute.
Over the last year, you’ve may have noticed my works coming less frequently—and for good reason. My focus has shifted as I’ve moved from leading a major library system to being a grandmother of three. And having just celebrated a milestone birthday, I am reminded of all the items that remain on my bucket list, which leaves little time for writing. Though I remain passionate about libraries and the library profession it’s time for new voices in the library profession, voices in the thick of things, to contribute to PW.
And I know there are many whose voices deserve to be heard. I was incredibly inspired by what I heard from librarians at the 2023 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. I enjoyed learning from newly minted librarians, long tenured librarians, and even those considering the profession as their next career move. After all, service to the public around books and information is what brought me to library school nearly 50 years ago.
Alas, with this column, I’ll be officially stepping back from my role as a PW columnist. I’m not going entirely away—I’ll still be around to help Andrew with perspective and counsel as needed for library coverage at Publishers Weekly (and who knows, I may pitch in with a piece occasionally). And if you’re interested in contributing to PW, Andrew assures me he’d be happy to hear from you.
For the Love of Reading
With this last piece, I wanted to leave you with a few thoughts on reading and libraries that come from my perspective as a new grandmother. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that my grandson, Matt, and granddaughter, Claire, love their public library, the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut. They have piles of borrowed titles (as well as a personal collection) in virtually every room of their home, and even in the family car. When they come to visit in New York, there are always new books borrowed from the New York Public Library waiting for them, as well as books they can take home. Library Girl: How Nancy Pearl Became America’s Most Celebrated Librarian by Karen Henry Clark and A Library by Nikki Giovanni are among their recent bedtime books.
My grandson, who just turned four, already pores over books about sea turtles and bears with illustrations and photographs and denser text. He loves beginning reader series like George and Martha by James Marshall, Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge, and Frog and Toad by Arthur Lobel. “Read the book!” he’ll demand, chapter after chapter. He already possesses all the attributes of a strong reader. And we are building the same reading interest and demand into two year old Claire’s daily activities as well as launching Merritt, my infant grandson, on his path as a reader, too.
But reading with my grandchildren has also reinforced for me that learning to read requires more than just access to books and initiative. It requires actual instruction. And because reading instruction is not part of library education, I reached out to two remarkable literacy teachers, Lisa Magliocco and Elizabeth McGoldrick formerly at the Waterside School in Stamford, Connecticut, for a discussion.
These remarkable educators were achieving an astonishing 100% student reading success rate through their literacy program—a structured, year-round reading curriculum that features “homework” of daily read-aloud and phonemic instruction beginning in mid-kindergarten. I listened with interest as they explained their approach. And then Lisa and Elizabeth gave me a homework assignment of my own: to listen to the podcast Sold a Story, Emily Hanford’s searing exploration of how reading instruction has gone so wrong in our schools. The podcast sent shivers down my spine as it presented decades of inadequate reading instruction and the harm that has caused.
It also started me thinking back to the origins of the Public Library Association’s “Every Child Ready to Read at Your Library” program. Some of you may recall that program, which began in 2003 when the Public Library Association (PLA) convened a group of smart, connected librarians to think about the library’s role in early learning. The plan was to develop library programming that supported children and families on their children’s journeys to becoming independent readers. As librarians, we already knew that story times and book recommendations were influential in a child’s motivation and enthusiasm to read. But PLA and ALA leaders also wanted something that more closely aligned to reading instruction.
It turned out to be a tall order. Reconciling the once dominant “whole language” theory of learning to read with the growing body of research that emphasized phonics and phonemic awareness was challenging. I remember Grover Whitehurst presenting his theories on dialogic reading—the process of having a dialogue around the text a child is reading. Reid Lyon’s presentation made it clear that reading was not a skill children learned intuitively, like learning to speak, but instead required deliberate instruction. And Sally Shaywitz presented her groundbreaking work teaching children with dyslexia.
In the final analysis, these three prominent reading researchers helped the ECRR development team recognize that incorporating phonemic awareness and dialogic reading for parents through story time programming was essential to helping parents and caregivers better support their child’s formal reading instruction. And that aligning of library programming and reading with the latest reading research is something we as librarians can and must continue to build on. Modeling good reading instruction in library programs is vital to help ensure that reading skill-building can happen not only at school or in the library but at home with family read-alouds.
Reading with my grandchildren has also opened my eyes to how much reading education has changed since I first entered the library profession. And also to what hasn’t changed: children will always need access to great stories and beautiful books, and the library will always be the place where that magic happens. Frequent visits to the library to discover and check out books remains one of the keys to building lifelong connections to books and reading, as well as to writing—just think about how many great authors have spoken about their special childhood library experiences and that memorable librarian who changed their lives?
No question, there will be more change to come, there always is. But however the future unfolds, I hope libraries will continue to embrace and invest in their central role in the ever-evolving reading enterprise. It's a critical piece of the library mission.