Book Review of Reading Matters: What Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community

Reading Matters: What Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community by Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne McKechnie, and Paulette M. Rothbauer (2006) showcases a compilation of research about readers and the role of libraries in promoting literacy and reading. This book addresses the myths and histories of reading. The purpose of Reading Matters is to provide insight into the role that reading plays in the lives of children, young adults, and adults. This book was written to appeal to an audience of library staff, parents, teachers, as well as students in library information science programs. As a result of the research compiled in this book, the reader will comprehensively understand the varying dynamics of reading. This information can then be effectively relayed to library trustees, parents, and others who seek to understand how and why people read.

Background Information

Reading Matters primarily focuses on the role that reading plays in different people’s lives. Ross, McKechnie, and Rothbauer use an abundant amount of research to show the role that reading plays in the lives of children, young adults and adults and the effect that this may have on their lives. Ross, McKechnie, and Rothbauer are all professors at the University of Western Ontario, and all have doctorate degrees in Information and Library Science. Working together on this book, each author brings a unique specialization to the text that helps the reader understand the different aspects of their individual research.

Catherine Sheldrick Ross’ research interests involve the reading experience, the reference transaction, and information seeking and use. Her research concentration focuses on reading as it affects the lives of adults. She continues to study the pleasure reading habits of adult readers, and “at last count had more than 220 open-ended interviews with avid readers” (Ross, McKechnie & Rothbauer, 2006, p.x). Ross has also been awarded grants for her research in qualitative studies of reading. Ross has written two other books, Conducting the Reference Interview and Communicating Professionally. Along with having her books published, Ross has been published in scholarly journals such as School Library Media Quarterly, Library and Information Science Research, Public Libraries, and Research Quarterly in reference to her research with reading and its effect on adults. Ross’ extensive knowledge on the effect of reading in relation to the adult population has made her a valuable resource for this book.

Lynne McKechnie has experience both in research and in teaching, but her expertise focuses on the effects of reading in relation to children. McKechnie, before teaching at the University of Western Ontario, was a children’s librarian for twenty years. Specifically, her research focuses on the intersection of public libraries, children and reading. McKechnie (2013) focuses on “bringing children’s voices into the discussion and inquiry” of reading. She has been published in such scholarly journals as Children and Libraries, Information Research: An International Journal, Canadian Journal of Library & Information Science, and Library Trends. McKechnie’s experience in the role that reading plays in the lives of children qualifies her as an expert resource on the subjects relayed in Reading Matters.

Paulette M. Rothbauer’s research focuses on the effect of reading on young adults. Rothbauer (2013) stated her interest “in the modes and methods of access to reading materials as well as social and cultural barriers to such access” for young adults. She continues to research the roles bookstores and information communication technologies have on young adults in relation to reading. Rothbauer has written the books Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Theories of Information Behavior: A Researcher’s Guide. She has also been published in such scholarly journals as the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, Library Quarterly, and Canadian Journal of Information & Library Science. Rothbauer’s focus on the role reading has on young adults and the research she has conducted on this topic qualifies her as a valuable resource for this book.

There are numerous books and research written on the subject of the role of reading in people’s lives. Some of these books include The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research by Stephen D. Krashen, Literacy and Libraries: Learning from Case Studies by Graceanne Decandido, Readers and Reading in America: Historical and Critical Perspectives by Carl F. Kaestle, and How Texts Teach What Readers Learn by Margaret Meek. These books specifically focus on reading as it affects people. Out of the numerous authors on the subject, Margaret Meek plays a significant role in guiding the focus of Reading Matters because she is the leading expert referred to throughout the book. Margaret Meek’s work on the subject had inspired Ross, McKechnie and Rothbauer to further research how reading affects the lives of children, young adults, and adults.

Summary

The book Reading Matters comprises of four chapters, each with a different focus. The first chapter discusses reading itself, predominantly the history of reading. The other three chapters detail findings based on age groups: chapter two focuses on children’s reading, chapter three discusses young adult’s reading, and chapter four examines adult reading. The book ends with a concluding statement summarizing how the book’s findings on reading are related to each other. The chapters are broken into units that include various case studies and comments related to the section topic. Additionally, all sections have various segmented information to provide guidelines, suggestions, and additional readings, titled “What libraries Can Do”, “To Read More”, and “Research Tells Us” (Ross et al, 2006).

The authors of the book begin chapter one by questioning the idea that reading is a dying art form. To illustrate, there are some myths about reading such as “people don’t read as much as they used to, men and boys don’t read, and real reading is a solitary affair” (Ross et al, 2006, p. 17). The authors debate these statements by presenting the results of research that suggest reading is an increasing trend and recommending how libraries can further help. Core findings from studies presented in this chapter create a foundation for the rest of the book. These core findings include that reading has many levels of proficiency, takes practice to develop, and has to be fun while practicing (Ross et al, 2006). These findings are stressed as significant resources for information professionals, parents, and community members.

Chapter two discusses children’s reading and begins by providing a summary of research of children’s reading. This research includes large-scale national survey results about children’s reading trends by countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and England, and international comparisons between many countries (Ross et al, 2006).  The authors talk about the negative attitudes toward reading, the age gap, and ELL students reading gap respectively. Ross et al (2006) suggest that reading among children depends on very personal preferences. The authors also discuss the factors that foster reading in childhood. Not surprisingly, children from families that are familiar with reading or story telling tend to become avid readers. Through a study conducted by Ross in 1995, it was found that children love to read series books for pleasure (as cited in Ross et al., 2006, p. 82). With various studies providing corroborating research, the book suggests that series books help children to develop key literature practices such as “making patterns, putting challenges stories together, and extrapolating meaning” (Ross et al., 2006, p. 84). The book also provides insight on how to fix the reading performance and achievement gap found between boys and girls.

Chapter three changes its population to young adults’ reading, and further clarifies some of the myths concerning them. The authors dispute the perception that young adults do not read because it is not as much fun or as engaging as many popular multimedia, and that “real reading means the reading of certain kinds of books” (Ross et al, 2006, p. 102). The National Education Association survey challenges many of these assumptions, finding that more than half of young adults polled read more than ten books a year (Ross et al., 2006, p. 104). The book provides other evidence that young adults like to read and choose to read for pleasure, and reading relates to other leisure activities of young people. Additionally, young adult’s reading material is not limited to books, but extends to other medium such as magazines, newspapers, comics, and graphic novels. Ross et al (2006) discusses how reading is important in helping young adults with understanding their place in the world, how libraries can support young adults’ literacy, and social aspects of reading.

In chapter four, the book focuses on adults’ readers using different scales such as age, demographics, ethnicity, education, occupation, gender, and income (Ross et al, 2006). Using tables, Ross et al. (2006) provide statistical information on the adult reader population, showing relationships between early reading and current reading, reasons for reading, and the types of books read. From this data, the authors suggest that educational level is the greatest gauge of adult reading (Ross et al., 2006). The book also examines the emotional and social aspects associated with adults’ reading. Positive aspects such as pleasure, the feeling of reward, and self-development are emotional motivations for reading. Social aspects are suggested through the many different ways to select books, the role of the best seller list for shaping reading habits, and reading as a social activity.

The concluding statement summarizes the authors findings related to reading for pleasure. Ross et al. (2006) reassure readers, librarians, teachers and parents that their efforts to include fiction and nontraditional resources as reading material have beneficial results and need no apology.

Evaluation (1000 words)

Goal Achievement

Reading Matters proposes that all reading, no matter the genre or type of text, builds reading skills. Ross et al (2006) suggest “through reading you discover who you are” (p. 243) and argue for readers to have varied reading experiences to expand this discovery process. Reading Matters presents a comprehensive view on reading historically, and presents different viewpoints on the act of reading. In the beginning of the text the author states, “This book was written for people who are interested in reading and in the role that reading plays in people’s lives” (Ross et al., 2006, p. ix). This book thoroughly described the role reading has played in people’s lives from childhood to adulthood, and also discusses the ways in which reading can affect people’s lives. This book also discusses the why of people reading, and gives sufficient data to support its results.

Reading Matters achieved its goal of providing research about reading, libraries, and community effectively. The authors state, “The goal of this book is to provide a map to the research findings, organized according to themes that are central to people interested in the intersection of reading, readers, and libraries” (Ross et al., 2006, p. ix). The book organizes the research into four categories encompassing readers from the childhood years through to adult years. The compilation of research provides valuable insight into why and how readers read.

Overall, this book can be a good starting point for anyone who is interested in literacy. By reading this book, a person should be able to explain why reading is important in one’s life with sound theoretical evidences and study cases. This book could be used by the educators in the library and information science, but also by parents, teachers, librarians and readers.

Suggested Possibilities

Several possibilities are offered throughout the book. Ross et al. (2006) call for libraries to expand collection development policies to include varying resource types. The authors utilize research and case studies to corroborate their suggestions, directly targeting these at librarians, teachers, parents and other readers. The research not only provides rationale for reading, but also suggests what libraries can do to support and promote literacy for different populations. The book provides tips and suggestions for further research and reading by including reading lists and ‘what to do’ sections. The case studies presented in the book offer assistance to other researchers interested in literacy for different populations. The lists and suggested reading offer help for readers seeking specific solutions to the various reading dilemmas discussed.

The authors suggest the possibility that the number of readers is increasing, and not decreasing as many people assume. Ross et al. (2006) report that Americans “spend on average 7 to 10 hours a week of leisure time on reading and say that reading is their second most popular leisure activity” (p. 2). The authors show, through research, that while many assume people are not reading because there are so many other things to do, new mediums for reading has actually increased literacy. Reading Matters suggests that reading and readers are not declining. Librarians, parents, and teachers should be encouraged that their support of reading is making a difference.

Another possibility suggested by this book is that reading is an important part of people’s lives emotionally and in forming their identities. Ross et al. (2006) suggest that “for children, memories of reading closely connect the experience of story with family scenes of comfort and caring” (p.152). This shows that not only can a person have an emotional connection with the text of a book, but also with the experience that went along with reading the book. This book gives several examples of that emotional connection with the text, along with the suggestion that reading plays an important role in our identity. Ross et al. (2006) state that reading books for pleasure “helps us understand who we are and what our place in the world is and might become” (p.115). The social structures shown in books and the relation of the reader within that context helps the reader understand more about themselves as they read.

Missing factors

            The most obvious component missing from the text was the aspects related to reading for a specific purpose. The authors discuss pleasure reading extensively, however little is discussed on quality or purposeful reading. Many readers research topics for educational purposes, or to fill an information need that is not necessarily pleasurable. This book also largely leaves out the impact that non-fiction text has on readers. The book discusses the history of literature and reading, and the importance of fiction. It briefly mentions non-fiction, but there is a wide variety of people that prefer reading non-fiction. However, how non-fiction plays a role in their lives is excluded from the authors’ analysis.

Digital media is also not discussed in Reading Matters. Even though this book was published in 2006, there was still a growing population of e-readers and digital texts in the world, and this book could have discussed this type of reading as well. Even though the text of an e-book and print are the same, the experience of the reading process is different. The book could have included more on the influence of digital media and how these technologies affect reading habits.

Reading Matters also left out the impact of what children read, which could show the effects of different types of books that include violence, action, and adventure. This section of the book focuses mostly on a child’s achievement as a reader. However, avid reading in children may not always lead to growth of the whole child if the content the child is reading is having an adverse impact. With this in mind, research on the quality of what a child reads, not just the quantity would have been beneficial.

Points that are not convincing

There were few points that were not convincing and lacked sufficient research to be persuasive. Topics such as identity development, gender differences, and forming reading habits through writing have inadequate supporting evidence in the book to be convincing.  Ross et al. (2006) state, “You are what you read and through reading you discover who you are” (Ross et al., 2006, p. 243). However a lack of reading experience does not indicate an inability to form an identity or develop character. The authors also state, “Reading then helps us understand who we are and what our place in the world is and might become” (Ross, McKechnie & Rothbauer, 2006, p. 115), but there is no research to support the idea that only people who read know their place in the world. It is not convincing that the construction of one’s identity is only as a result of what is being read. While a reader might identify with a character or a situation that is being read, the text does not provide research indicating the development of an individual’s identity is only as a result of reading habits.

The issue of gender is also not convincing in relation to the reading habits of children. While there are differences between male and female readers, especially in youth, stereotypes of these differences have shifted and are not as prevalent as they once were. Ross et al. (2006) state statistics about boys and learning disabilities, but that does not discuss the role of reading in an adolescent boys’ life (p. 88). This section also discusses the types of stories that boys and girls enjoy reading, which is dynamic and subject to change. Many girls enjoy reading sci-fi and fantasy in social settings, while boys can also enjoy reading fairy tales. Statistics based on a study of kindergarten and first grade students does not accurately reflect the reading tastes of older children (Ross et al, 2006, p. 89). Children of that young age could be choosing the books for themselves, but more likely parents or teachers suggest specific readings that could influence their future choices.

Personal experiences related to reading

As a group, there are varied and diverse experiences related to reading. Each group member has discovered a love of reading, and eagerly looks forward to sharing the adventures and trials in reading with others through librarianship. Although each person’s experiences in reading are different, each is equally valid and worthwhile.

Group Member A read every book she encountered while growing up, and was frequently gifted with books from family members. One such gift included a collection of fifty classical literature books, which she voraciously read. This distressed her mother, who tried to blame Member A’s need for glasses on reading. After reading the whole collection in a two month timespan, she continued reading books and is now working on her doctorate degree in library science.

Group Member B (Stacy Derleth) exclusively read romantic fiction as a young adult. The attraction of a guaranteed happy ever after would consistently bring her back to this genre. Occasionally, she would attempt reading classical literature or nonfiction, but usually could not summon the enthusiasm to finish reading the book. This experience in reading gave her the practice needed to be able to focus on and comprehend academic articles for her graduate studies in library science and information technology.

Group Member C frequently reflects on how time changes the perspective of a story for her. She recently reread a fictional story after an extended lapse in time, and it provided a different meaning to her on the second reading. Ross et al. (2006) discuss the “Reader Response Theory” (p. 50) in which the focus of the reading experience is the emotions of the reader. These emotions are based on the past experiences of the reader, evolving over time and affecting the emotional response of reading.

Group Member D shares her reading experience with other people through book clubs. She has experienced the validation a book club can give to time spent reading for pleasure and finds book clubs help in making different book choices than her normal selections. As part of these book communities, she also can look forward to the social aspects of regular meetings and time together with friends.

Conclusion

Reading Matters successfully compiles research about reading, and provides insight into the development of reading skill. The progression of the book from child to young adult to adult in the development of reading skill is carefully organized and logical. As an appeal to librarians, parents, teachers, and readers everywhere to encourage reading of whatever genre and material that is interesting and fun, Reading Matters is successful in convincing the value of pleasure reading. Any reader of this book will emerge from its pages with a clear understand of how important it is to read for pleasure.

References

McKechnie, L. (2013). Research Interests. Retrieved from http://www.fims.uwo.ca/peopleDirectory/faculty/fulltimefaculty/full_time_faculty_profil e.htm?PeopleId=130 [O1]

Rothbauer, P.M. (2013). Research. Retrieved from http://www.fims.uwo.ca/peopleDirectory/faculty/fulltimefaculty/full_time_faculty_profil e.htm?PeopleId=545 [O2]

Ross, C.S., McKechnie, L. & Rothbauer, P.M. (2006). Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals abut Reading, Libraries, and Community. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


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