Public libraries are like supermarkets for the soul

But Americans are reading less and less

BUFFALO — Libraries are like supermarkets for the soul.

I spent an hour Saturday afternoon wandering through the tiny library that serves my community. I thumbed through the biographies and traced my fingers on the bindings of the history books.

A library is an ironic place for me to be. I’m not supposed to be able to read.

I was born with a condition called dyslexia. When I was learning to read, letters would jumble. Words somehow didn’t connect into sentences in the same way they did for other children.

When I was in third grade, my teachers said I just wasn’t trying. They sent home picture books for kindergartners. Apparently, that is what they thought I should aspire to.

People ask me sometimes: What was the toughest time in your life? My answer is always the same: third grade.

What made it so painful was I had two teachers who refused to see my potential.

But my mother knew better. Each week, she would load me up in the car and take me to the Galesburg Public Library. It was an effort that changed my life. We would walk through the children’s section and together we would pick out Dan Frontier books and Tom Swift tales.

I was transported far from the sterile hallways of Coldbrook School to magical realms of pioneers and scientists. The world became a more interesting place.

For at least an hour a day, my mother and I would read together.

I steadily became a better reader. Within two years, I was in the top reading group of my school.

Today, I read four newspapers every day and at least one book a week. I have a master’s degree. I can’t imagine a world without printed words.

But Americans are reading less and less. From 2003 to 2018, the average amount of time adult Americans spent reading for personal interest per day fell by six minutes, to less than 16 minutes per day, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s just sad.

Bookstores are closing. Libraries are disappearing. And newspapers are struggling.

Somehow, the joy of reading isn’t being instilled as it should.

I thought about that this week as my three daughters returned to school. My youngest entered third grade this year. I pray her year is better than mine was.

On Saturday, I saw my 11-year-old with her nose in a library book.

I asked her what she was reading about. She replied, “I’m reading about a girl growing up in India when it became two countries.”

I saw the sparkle in her eyes as she explained what she had learned. I had to smile. Books are nourishment for the soul.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. His email address is