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Guest column | Loni Kaplan

Reading library books should be a pleasure, not a pressure

Ten-year-old Emily wakes up next to a nightstand peppered with books about China, space, Hannah Montana and horses. She has read from each of them over the past few weeks, and enjoys getting to choose which of her interests she will learn about before bed each night.

While brushing her teeth, she enjoys a few pages of Superfudge by her latest favorite author, Judy Blume. On the way to school, she reads over The City of Ember, a book a friend told her about that is starting to get very exciting. After doing her homework that afternoon, Emily lounges on the couch with her mom, taking turns reading aloud from the latest Harry Potter book. Emily enjoys the luxury of time, and associates books with relaxation and enjoyment.

Twelve-year-old Sarah just started reading The Call of the Wild. Sarah has been reading this one novel morning and night, trying desperately to finish it in two weeks. While she is also interested in many things, she cannot afford the luxury of having many books going at once, because if she does, she won't finish any of them. Sarah feels the pressure to read quickly, and does not enjoy the luxury of leisurely reading.

Why the difference? Emily lives is Pinellas County, where she can check out books for 28 days and renew them twice. Sarah lives in Pasco County, where she can check out books for 14 days and renew them once.

Sarah never feels the luxury of being surrounded by words wherever she goes. Emily envelops herself in books. Which one will grow up to enjoy reading more?

If Pasco County is trying to promote education and literacy, its new policy of 14-day checkout for library materials seems counterproductive. Having a book for only two weeks discourages reading and learning. The library's reasoning for this cut to 14-day checkouts from 28-day checkouts is that because budget cuts will not let the library buy new materials, this change will circulate the same materials faster, thereby allowing more patrons to use the same amount of materials. There is already a system in place to ensure that if someone else wants a book that is checked out, that first patron may not renew the book. The second patron may then have access to the book.

As homeschoolers, our family heavily utilizes the library system. This is true of most other homeschooling families as well. When we plan studies for our children, we may review the materials we check out first, and them present them to our children as lessons. Fourteen days is definitely not enough time to plan lessons, use the resources and complete the studies.

A trip to the library is a mainstay of our weekly plan. When we go, we may check out many books, in anticipation of learning about the different subjects, or one subject in depth. To effectively use those books, we need several weeks at a minimum.

While the new policy does allow for renewals to 28 days, there are often books that we have not quite gotten through, or are in the middle of, when the 28-day period is up. The new policy does not allow for anything beyond 28 days.

My teenage son and I participate together in a book club, which is reading 1984 by George Orwell. It is quite impossible for us both to read this novel in 14 days, and even if we could, the book club meets monthly, so we would not have the book to reference during the meeting. Book clubs should be pleasurable, not burdensome "hurry up and get through it" ordeals.

Working adults who would like to read a book have a very difficult time completing the book within a 14-day period. Unless someone has the luxury of reading for several hours each day, it is extremely difficult to finish a book in the specified period of time.

Seniors who make great use of library services have one more thing to add to their to-do list: Renew or return library books. Many seniors are not comfortable using the renewal services online, and so return their materials in person. They are now required to do so much more often, which adds yet another burden, particularly with the high price of gas.

This new policy may drive patrons to Pinellas libraries with their much more generous policies. The problem is that if Pasco overutilizes Pinellas libraries, then Pinellas may very well cut off Pasco residents, just as Hillsborough chose to do.

The libraries are suffering from budget cuts, just as are many other county agencies. There must be other ways to make these cuts than place this burden upon the patrons. We are very grateful for our libraries, for they help make a community a valuable place. Let's not ruin this wonderful resource.

The library board has said that this new policy is being put into effect on a trial basis. I imagine that if enough people complain about the difficulty this 14-day policy places upon their lifestyle, the policy will go back to 28-day checkout. Please, if you value our library system, let the librarians know you are upset about this change. Together, we can make our library a user-friendly system.

Loni Kaplan lives in Gulf Harbors in west Pasco County.

Reading library books should be a pleasure, not a pressure 08/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:12pm]

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