Reading has changed the world‚ and it could change yours

What do Bill Gates, Elon Musk and William Kamkwamba all have in common?

It’s not their fortunes or their inventive minds. The answer is much more simplistic. All three of these revolutionary figures found an early love for reading, and through their love of books, they unlocked the key to success.

As a struggling fourth grader, Bill Gates was desperately trying to make it through school whilst going unnoticed. Ashamed of his poor handwriting (what experts now call dysgraphia) and messy desk (a trait studies have linked to intelligence), he retreated from the world between the pages of his books. But, it wasn’t until he befriended Blanche Caffiere, his primary school librarian when this love for reading transformed into a passion for learning.

Bill Gates wrote about Blanche in an online memoir. “She pulled me out of my shell by sharing her love of books. She started by asking questions like, ‘What do you like to read?’ and ‘What are you interested in?’ Then she found me a lot of books—ones that were more complex and challenging than the Tom Swift Jr. science fiction books I was reading at the time.”

“Mrs Caffiere took me under her wing and helped make it okay for me to be a messy, nerdy boy who was reading lots of books.”

Like software development, inventing electric cars and revolutionising space travel doesn’t just happen by chance. It requires innovative thinking, problem solving skills and a wildly alive imagination. Skills that neuroscience tells us reading helps to develop. So it’s not a total surprise to read that Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and SpaceX) was ‘raised by books’.

Growing up, he’d spend up to 10 hours a day reading science fiction novels and encyclopedias. Helping him to make sense of the world around him and the problems it would one day face, these books paved the way for his future career.

In 2001, William Kamwamba, a Malawian teenager, saved his village from drought and hunger by building an underground water pump from scrap metal and tree bark. But how did a 14-year-old boy build such an impressive structure with discarded materials found at his local dump? By exploring the science books at his local library.

Public libraries offer us access to an infinite wealth of knowledge (both digital and print). They open doors to imagination and creative thinking and offer a safe space for us to fall in love with learning. Whether we’re researching for a PhD, reading classic literature or picking up our first book, the library is a place where we might find our very own Blanche Caffiere. Sunshine Coast Libraries connect our community with high quality information resources, skills based workshops, tutorials, reading programs and even book clubs.

They’re places to find like-minded individuals, to learn new skills and are often where a child experiences their earliest forms of independence. For them, a library card is a key that unlocks endless possibilities. Maybe they’ll dive into the science section and learn about engineering or space. Perhaps they’ll fall in love with the magical worlds of Harry Potter, Narnia or The Jungle Book. Because, after all, reading isn’t just about cognitive development or improved literacy, it’s a lifelong hobby that can take us on adventures wherever and whenever we please.

By Karen Gawen, Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council