Archive for the ‘Reading in America’ Category

In a recent segment by Fox News Chicago, the question was posed:  “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?”  With Illinois unable to pay its bills, people are wondering whether the $120 million dollars that Chicago allocates to the libraries is worth it?

Photo by Shawn Econo from Flickr

The Fox News team donned an undercover camera and took to the stacks,  if you will, to investigate.  What they found out from their in-depth, and unbiased and balanced observation was shocking!  During an entire hour, which is a million years in journalism years, they counted 300 patrons, most of whom were using the library’s free access to the internet, and not looking at books.  Oh the horror!  One can only conclude that the rest of the 4,700 visitors to the Harold Washington Library, must also be on a similar, non-book quest.  With soaring heat temperatures, perhaps they are merely using the beautiful $144 million dollar building as a cooling shelter.

Oh no, libraries are not bastions of  intellectual pursuit, repositories of knowledge, the great equalizer for the common man, they are a drain on the taxpayer!  The irony is of course that with the economy in the dumps, libraries are seeing an upsurge in patrons when the tax base supporting them is eroding.  There are almost 800 libraries in Illinois, and people borrow over 88 million times a year!  I do not doubt those figures, just this year alone I’ve borrowed over ten books, and I’m a casual user.

The segment by Fox News Chicago was certainly flawed in research methodology, and narrow in representative scope, but it did succeed in engaging the thinking process, which is essential to spirited debate and a functioning Republic.

$120 million dollars is a lot of money, and I would love to see a follow-up report where Fox News Chicago investigates where the money goes.  Fiscal responsibility is a must in these slim times.

Jim Tobin thinks that libraries are obsolete, and that most of the money spent on libraries are for salaries and pensions.  I had a chuckle when I read that Fox News Chicago thought that some money allocated to libraries could be used for the CTA, policemen or other government pensions!  That makes no sense, take pensions away from one employee and give it to another?  That still doesn’t solve anything, and if we close libraries we will have even more unemployed people.  But this time, they might not have anywhere to go.

Still, it could be worse, it could be the Library of Congress with a budget of over $600 million dollars.


I just stumbled across this excellent article by Tom Jacobs for Miller-McCune, “Home Libraries Provide Huge Educational Advantage.

Mr. Jacobs refers to a study conducted by researchers from 27 nations and published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

The study states that, “growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books.  This is a large effect, both absolutely and in comparison with other influences on education.”

Having read that I reflected on my own childhood.  I don’t remember a time when I was not surrounded by some kind of print, whether it was my father’s newspaper, comic books, or great works of literature.  I have fond memories of visiting my maternal grandparents’ house and leafing through their collection of World War II books.  I used to gaze for hours at the black and white photographs of men and women fighting, the ruins of Dresden, the submarines in the Atlantic, and the massive tank battles on the Eastern Front.  Not only did it fuel my imagination and dreams of becoming a soldier, but it solidified my love of history and reading.

I truly believe that books are the fuel that drives critical thinking and propels people to new heights in their personal quest towards enlightenment.  As the old quip goes: “God created man, Sam Colt made them equal.”  My personal take is that books are the great equalizers.  The story of Andrew Carnegie comes to mind, a man of humble beginnings, his thirst for knowledge and love of reading helped to propel him forward.  Working for Colonel James Anderson, Carnegie would take advantage of Colonel Anderson’s charity of allowing his “working boys” access to his personal library of over 400 volumes.  I think that this not only nurtured Carnegie’s cultural and intellectual development, but also laid the kindling for his future philanthropy.  Perhaps Colonel Anderson and Andrew Carnegie are the perfect examples of the “pay it forward” ideal.

The research study also concluded that “…the gains are not equally great across the entire range. Having books in the home has a greater impact on children from the least-educated families. It is at the bottom, where books are rare, that each additional book matters most.”

Looking around my own home, it is not without a certain pride, that I can report that my wife and I are surrounded by hundreds of books.  I can only hope that in the future our children will take advantage of that.  If we can give them an educational “edge” by having books around, then so be it!  Now getting them to actually read those books is another matter entirely.

Back in 2003 Robyn Jackson dug up some interesting statistics about reading in America:


1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. 
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. 
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 
57 percent of new books are not read to completion. 
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance. 
70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins,


Original article.