For many years, the British Library has been documenting Britain’s literary achievements. The work of some great literary minds. The finest words that the people of this country have had to say. The greatest stories and poems that we know. Last month, the British Library went from documenting history to being a part of writing history as it hosted the fourth annual Reader Organisation conference.
The effect of the Reader Organisation has been profound. They have helped vulnerable children; children with family issues, in care homes for example. They help young adults who need help; those who have been expelled from school, substance abusers and young offenders. They help adults who need help; recovering alcoholics, those recovering from traumatic illnesses. They reach out to this wide expanse of people by the remarkably simple act of reading aloud. They use reading as the medium to reach out to people who otherwise have no one else to turn to.
Reading aloud has an effect that should not be underestimated. It is not an expensive medical solution, indeed the Reader Organisation have undertaken extensive research on the neurological effects of reading in order to compete and operate in a society that places great belief on empirical evidence. It is not something that is supported in our current educational system. The results and outcome-driven nature of schooling cannot accommodate an activity which apparently has no academic benefits. – this is of course rich from a schooling system that only arguably offers academic benefits itself, alas this is a point of discussion for future blog posts!
It is certainly not something that many people would think of doing just for the sake of it. Behind TV, movies, Facebook, reading magazines, reading newspapers and reading silently, reading aloud faces stiff competition. Indeed for those with a busy lifestyle and through day to dawn are busy; of course reading aloud does seem obsolete. Especially as reading in your head is less time-consuming. But for people who need our time, for the vulnerable children who are branded as hooligans, for the vulnerable adults branded as invalids, for the alcohol and substance abusers who are turned out at their doorstep, reading aloud can, and as this charity has shown, does provide a warm hand to help them start overcoming their individual problems. Naturally reading aloud won’t cure cancer, nor could it bring back a lost childhood and so on. What reading does do though is give people a chance to escape their daily grind, their downward spiral, and momentarily in this atmosphere (created by reading aloud) find a place between the pages where their individual challenges are suspended.
The history that is being written by The Reader Organisation uses a tradition where books as we know them first derived – oral poetry. The first great stories, like the Iliad and Odyssey were orated. In our current time it does have the same effect of bringing people together. Considering that we live in a society that is always looking for the next big solution, the break though technological fix to mobility issues, the pioneering step in stem-cell research, the cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s. It is clear that the little steps have been overlooked. The small things like spending an hour a week reading and talking to the vulnerable people are underestimated in the face of these influential, grandiose quick-fix solutions. Here we have an exemplary example of how the small things that we can do as individuals to make a big change in other people’s lives.