Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 13, 2010

You can never have too many books.

A new study spearheaded by a sociologist at the University of Nevada suggests that the size of your home library can affect your children’s educational attainment.

I’m not a sociologist, so I can only provide anecdotal evidence. When I was a kid, my home library was huge. My parents were never well off (one income–a professor’s income, no less–and 7 kids), but books seemed to be a high priority for them. We had two sets of encyclopedias, the Harvard Classics, Childcraft, etc….plus thousands of books of all sorts: both fiction and non-fiction; everything from picture books to college-level textbooks.

The only one of my parents’ seven children who doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree is my younger brother Ben, and he hasn’t bothered to earn a degree because he’s a self-taught software consultant who makes too much money to bother with college. (He had his own business at 14, and got his first job with a software company at 16.) Here reading led to a substitute for college.

Now, here’s a question: would the type of books in a family’s library affect whether or not a child chooses to go into science? This is less clear, though we certainly had a lot of science books at our house. But then, we had lots of other books too–I read plenty of fiction (Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder), history books (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, among other things), how-to books (Rodale’s Organic Gardening), etc. But there’s no doubt that I also read more than my share of science books.

My own children also read science books. When they were younger, I had a rule that they had to check out (and later read) two non-fiction books every time we went to the library. Sometimes these were biographies, sometimes they were cookbooks, sometimes they were about history books…but many times they were about science or engineering. Al was crazy about engineering, Lemuel was the biology fan, and Lew the space nut. Will likes reading about animals right now.

Books that have received lots of use in our house–we either own these or check them out regularly from the library:

DK Science Encyclopedia (Al used to sleep with this)
The New Way Things Work
Seymour Simon’s science series
Reader’s Digest’s How _____ Works (Science, the Universe, the Weather, etc.)
DK Eyewitness Science books

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