Joyful Reading: Librarian of Congress Passionate about Children’s Literacy
Adam Coffee, age eight, from San Clemente, California, recently wrote Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, Ph.D., with a complaint: one should not have to be 16 years old to access items in the world’s largest library. Contrary to popular adult opinion, children can be trusted with precious items such as rare books and original letters from presidents, Coffee contended in his handwritten correspondence.
The astute letter writer “prompted us to think about younger readers” and how the Library can better serve them, Hayden explained during her University of Findlay Fridays at Findlay presentation on March 23. The story also meshed with her message about the importance of children’s literacy as it pertains to critical thinking and lifelong learning.
“I started as a children’s librarian and I remain that at heart,” Hayden told the large crowd at the leadership breakfast; afterward, she proved her point by visiting UF’s Mazza Museum, where she and illustrator and author Will Hillenbrand enthusiastically read to Jacobs Primary School students.
Hayden’s entire Fridays at Findlay talk can be viewed here.
Her literacy philosophy hinges on cultivating and forever maintaining delight for reading. This can be achieved, she said, by allowing self-determination and embracing print products.
Research has shown that children whose caregivers read to them right from the start often have a far more expanded vocabulary by the time they enter kindergarten and are more prepared to learn other subjects, she noted. What is also important for developing a love for reading is providing a sense of comfort, encouragement and exhibiting genuine excitement, Hayden said. Her first-hand experience with such a learning environment was influential.
“I was fortunate to have a family that read. One of my joys was to be able to read by myself,” said Hayden.
The first African American and first woman Librarian of Congress praised specific programs that help “bridge that gap” for those who may not have much access to books, or fully understand the importance of inculcating literacy with children. She mentioned:
- Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library – A free program that mails books to children from birth to age six. More than 1 million age-appropriate books are sent to children around the world each month, including in Hancock County thanks to the Literacy Coalition of Hancock County. More information, including how to register, can be found here: https://www.findlaylibrary.org/content/dolly-parton-imagination-library-0.
- American Academy of Pediatrics – It has launched educational programs to encourage new parents, still in the hospital after giving birth, to begin reading to their infants.
When children begin learning to read in school, mandated assignments can sometimes take the joy out of reading. Therefore, Hayden also champions the Readers’ Bill of Rights, especially for the youngest readers. Created by French author Daniel Pennac, it gives readers permission to skip pages, not finish a work if they don’t like it, reread, read anything they’d like, not have to defend their tastes, read aloud, and more.
“When you give young people the ability to choose the books and to enjoy things, they’re become critics,” Hayden maintained. Research indicates they then tend to become better readers and lifelong readers because the act never becomes a chore. The thrill is maintained.
After a year and a half on the job, Hayden clearly still finds her work thrilling. When she was appointed by President Barrack Obama, she said she had to consider an operational approach that caters to the public good and that best suits her ethos. Her answer has been increased accessibility to a treasure trove that has been characterized as one of the greatest gifts the country has given to the people of America.
The Library of Congress, with a worldview that is inherently unbiased, is home to an extraordinary amount of historically significant items such as the world’s largest baseball card collection, the first edition of the Spider-Man comic book, and one of only three perfect copies on vellum of the 15th century Gutenberg Bible. Therefore, Hayden wants to be sure that it does not become “a mausoleum of knowledge,” but rather an interactive heritage preservation center. Access is tantamount. One of its primary duties is to digitize collections and it hosts traveling exhibitions.
“We’ve got all this cool stuff, and this is your stuff to see and take pride in,” Hayden pointed out.
As for the young Mr. Coffee, his letter concluded, “I think we should talk” about the museum’s age requirements. Hayden said she and some staff members did just that by organizing a conference call and having him be a “librarian for the day” during a visit.
Hayden said the Library is now considering implementing a program that would allow readers between ages 6 and 8 to obtain library cards.
The next Fridays at Findlay will be held at 7:30 a.m. April 27 in the Alumni Memorial Union (not Winebrenner Theological Seminary, where previous breakfasts have been held). The topic will be “Changing Trends in Animal Care.” A panel of experts will include Todd Beckett, DVM, VDA Mill Run Animal Hospital; Brandon Forshey ’09, DVM, assistant professor of animal science and director for pre-veterinary medicine at UF; Paul Kalbach, president and owner of Kambach Feeds, Inc.; Pam Pivaronas ’15, owner and founder of Equinity Therapy Solutions, Inc.; and Jennifer Smith ’91, DVM, UF Board of Counselors. To register, visit the Fridays at Findlay webpage.