“‎The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

When I was nine years old, my sister got me my first library card, from the Albany Park Branch Library in Chicago. Yes, we were a comfortable middle-class family and had plenty of books at home, but that library card made life even better. Thank you, Gloria!

Since 1987, every September has been Library Card Sign-up Month and the American Library Association and local libraries make a special effort to make sure each child has a library card. What a great idea!

Here is some of what we know about public libraries:

· Study after study shows that self-selected pleasure reading is the way we develop our ability to read and write: Those who do more self-selected reading (largely fiction) have larger vocabularies, spell better, write better and read better.

· Those who read more know more. They know more about history, literature, science and even practical matters. And most of what people read is fiction.

· Readers, research has told us, also have more empathy for others: Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air explains that when you read a novel “You’re learning to be somebody else, learning the see the world through their eyes.” Also, you learn that the world is complex, and simple solutions don’t always work. Former president Barack Obama, I am sure, was unfamiliar with the academicresearch when he was interviewed by the Guardian about his reading habits, but he came to same conclusions: “When I think about how I understand my role … the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found .. it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”

· Public libraries are a major source of reading material for pleasure reading. For children of poverty, school and public libraries are often the only source of reading material.

· Research specifically about public libraries and school success makes the case for libraries irresistible: In 2008, researchers Keith Curry Lance and Robbie Braverman reported that “the greater the amount of circulated materials and the greater the attendance at library programs, the more likely kids will do well in reading.”

· In 2021, researchers at the Federal Research Bank reported that “Substantial financial investments in public libraries are associated with more checkouts and improved reading test scores for children in nearby school districts for several years following the investment.”

· And my personal favorite, co-authored with Shu-Yaun Lin and Fay Shin, published in Knowledge Quest. A high school student’s reading scores when DOWN during the school year, but went back UP during the summer. During the summer, she spent a lot of time reading novels for pleasure … at the local public library.

Let’s celebrate and support Library Card Sign-Up Month.

“The death of a library, any library, suggests that the community has lost its soul.” Kurt Vonnegut

Stephen Krashen Ph.D. doesn’t work for any library, but is a member of the Santa Monica Public Library, the American Library Association, and the American School Library Association. He has presented his research at the Library of Congress, and his book, The Power of Reading (2004) has been cited over 4000 times. It is available for free download at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247950880_The_Power_of_Reading_Insights_from_the_Research