Love to Read: The Benefits of Reading for Pleasure

Ellen Cothran, School Librarian
When I was in library school, I synthesized a vision of the most important services a school library can offer. I came up with three product lines that have guided my programming as a librarian ever since. These are, Love to Read, Research Instruction & Information Literacy, and the Physical & Virtual Library.

Let’s take a look at  Love to Read, which is all the programming we offer around reading for pleasure. Enjoying books we choose is incredibly important and here are just a few reasons why:

  • Regular pleasure-reading is linked directly with increased academic performance in school and performance on standardized tests, according to study after study. Recent American Library Association research shows clearly that students who read for pleasure score higher on achievement tests across subject areas and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.
  • Scores of longitudinal studies, including The British Cohort Study that has tracked individuals’ habits and life choices for almost 50 years, show that statistically significant numbers of students who regularly read for pleasure during their secondary school years grew into leaders in their chosen fields. The study was broad and researchers were looking at all kinds of correlations. They were shocked to find how many readers became leaders. Whatever the field, it seems, they are leading the way. They are the editor of the paper they work for, or they become the lead designer at their architectural firm, five years after they started. It’s an impressively strong link. 
  • A 2006 York University study examined lifetime exposure to both fiction and non-fiction. The study found that reading fiction positively correlated to greater emotional empathy. A recent University of Toronto study indicated that reading fiction leads people to be more accepting of ambiguity, allowing them to better process information and exercise greater creativity. Other studies indicate that reading novels can improve understanding of social cues, increase world knowledge and improve one’s ability to work with and understand others. 
The lists of studies and the benefits of reading for pleasure go on and on.

We tie those positive findings in the research to the way that people connect to language in the formative years. The more we read what we want to read, the more we become facile using language ourselves. Learning to communicate clearly, to genuinely connect with our listeners and readers, takes years of engagement with all kinds of writing. We believe the link between higher test scores and regular pleasure reading lies in the “accidental practice” we get at quickly identifying layered meaning in the language on tests. Further, leadership often centers on communicating consistently and clearly; young readers have a head start sharpening these skills even if as teens they sometimes struggle with it!

People often think promoting pleasure reading is just an old-fashioned library thing, but as a researcher myself, I work from evidence, and the evidence just won’t quit.

I’m looking forward to the beautiful new library space that will be incorporated into the Innovation Center, right in the heart of our campus. If the campaign reaches its goal, we can offer this space to students as early as spring 2021. It will be a place where students can gather, study, collaborate, research, create, relax and read, read, read to their heart’s content. 

What could make a librarian happier than that?!