RX: Libraries

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It’s not just nostalgia that has many parents preferring print books over e-books for their young children. CJ Hirschfield says science backs it up.

Parents and toddlers talk and interact less with electronic books, as compared to print books. That’s not just me saying so, but the conclusion of a just-published study in the journal Pediatrics. The authors wrote that “pediatricians may wish to continue promoting shared reading of print books, particularly for toddlers and younger children.”

The same week, my city of Oakland -- thanks to the passage of a recent bond measure -- announced that it is extending its operating hours for all public library branches. I am overjoyed—we can now visit libraries six days a week, and on two evenings.

I connect these two events, especially as someone whose job has me observing toddlers every day. The academic study reinforces what many of us have intuitively believed-- that for very young kids, real books have advantages over e- books or tablets.

What kind of advantages? Well, toddlers can access books without adult help, or electric power. And where better to do it than a library, where they can explore all kinds of different-looking books. They can browse freely, and pick out books that can then be read to them.


At home, whether it’s library books or others, kids can have access to a pile of books whenever they wish to engage, or re-engage. They can show you what they want to read. Toddlers are typically locked out of tablets, so they can’t get to e-books without help.

And once toddlers learn the words or plotline of a favorite book you’ve read them, they’ll sit and quote unquote “read” it to themselves. Can’t do this with a tablet. They can skip ahead, go back—what a powerful feeling! A love of reading often flows from here.

There are many other reasons why reading books to toddlers is a good thing. But the feel of real books, and the opportunity they provide for toddlers to make their own choices about what—and when-- they want to explore, really resonate with me.

I’m not a pediatrician, but if I were, I’d prescribe libraries.

With a Perspective, I’m C.J. Hirschfield.

CJ Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland.