A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

The Connection Between Reading and Play

by on July 2, 2013

The children’s section of our public library has a boat. And, as much as my boys would like to think otherwise, it is not a pirate boat to do battle or make your enemies walk the plank.  It is a reading boat. The other week I met them after my library shift was over. Before we left, I helped my youngest son retrieve books from the cabin of the library boat and place them in the shelving area.  Upon arriving at home, my oldest asked me, “Where are my library books?”   I replied, “We put them back because you weren’t reading them.”  “But dad,” he said, “I wanted to read them at home.”

The reading boat was donated and while I’m embarrassed when my fellow librarians need to shush my children, I understand that the temptation to play is too great.  Yes, I want my boys to have manners and good behavior and NOT embarrass their dad who happens to work in the library.  But, their is this massive boat in the library and while it is labeled the “reading boat” and has chairs from which to read, it is still a huge boat just sitting there waiting for the next invasion

With the advent of summer reading programs, I see all kind of hooks to get children into (or near) the library with the hopes of maintaining their reading skills.

Boats and games and dinosaurs all have me thinking about the connection between reading and play.  Should summer reading be about improving or at least maintaining reading skills?  Or, is it about fun things that encourage children’s interests in a safe and inexpensive place, which just happens to have books, movies, computers, tablets, music, etc.  This sounds like a similar argument for gaming in the library or having Nerf or laser-tag battles. More and more I believe the services we provide as a profession have changed so quickly that I’m just playing catch up.  (Was I truly so insulated in my academic library?)  We really aren’t just about maintaining artifacts and “stuff.”  When I take my boys to touch tractors or play Jedi games, I used to think the book was the most important.  Now, I’m not sure it matters.  Our role isn’t to teach them to read, but we can sure find an appropriate title to practice.  Maybe the most important thing is just stepping through that door, doing something, and having a positive experience.

I’m sure the boat will eventually sail on for blue-er pastures.  But, what my children know (and love) about their library isn’t the thousands of items, though that is important, it’s that they have a boat.  They still wanted the books but how can you really read at the library when you have a boat to sail?