There’s an old yet hilariously inaccurate saying that people only use ten percent of their brains, but I’d like to suggest that it may have some merit in regard to library usage. Not that library members only use ten percent of their brains, but that the average material holdings of a library only stimulate ten percent of people’s brains. In other words, rather than be supportive of the entire brain, the library focuses on a much smaller portion of it.
The relatively short neuroscience lesson is that there are three major areas that are used for reading: Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, and the inferior parietal lobule. While current understanding indicates that the nerve impulses from reading are sent out to other areas of the brain, it still represents a small portion of the overall brain that is being activated. Consider these images of brain scans to the right taken in profile; reading is at the top. (The front of the brain is to the left. Click to embiggen.) From the color activity map, the major activity is focused towards the back of the brain where the visual information is received and processed. While there are some some spots of activity elsewhere, the brain is otherwise largely inactive.
Perhaps it is not mathematical equivalent to ten percent (lest someone gets stuck on that little detail), but to me it feels that the oft stated mission and goal of the library (literacy and reading) focus on just one particular part of the brain to the detriment of all the other wonderful senses and functions that have evolved from our primate ancestors.
I can’t say that the average public library completely ignores these other brain areas, but I do think we give up on them over the course of the life of an individual. If we were to examine at the average program offerings of public libraries across the United States, I would surmise that the pattern you would see is that early childhood and kids programs represent the most brain stimulating programs with crafts, songs, body movements, and things to hear, touch, see, and possibly smell and taste. But once people age out of that early stage of development, the programs shift away from those deeply interactive offerings. Adult programming moves to the more passive activities like book clubs and computer instruction with a lesser offering of crafting and other creation based programs. To me it feels like a sad and perplexing narrowing of the focus from body and mind combined to simply the mind with only limited (if any) jaunts to the body. It’s as if getting old meant you were beyond anything but intellectual activities. Why is this so?
As much as it is said that libraries are gateways to other worlds through the books that they carry, there is still a very real world that people want to experience with all of their senses and emotions. These are brains (and bodies) that are looking for more stimulation than just the printed word. If public libraries want to reflect life in their communities, a true reflection means more than just passive intellectual pursuits. It means having bodies in motion, multiple senses engaged, and reaching towards those other areas of the brain.
What do you think?