Reading can transport people into the lives of other characters and into different cultures, time periods and worlds, but it’s easy to fall out of the habit, when life gets busy and distracting. That can be true for librarians too.

To combat this during the COVID-19 pandemic, Paducah Tilghman High School librarian Beth Wyant chose to put an emphasis on reading and “surrounded” herself with reading communities. She read books that made her happy. It helped make the unpredictable 2020 a great reading year for her.

For 2021, Wyant decided to kick off a new reading initiative for Tilghman students and took inspiration from Book Riot’s “Read Harder” challenge. The local challenge is dubbed, “#ReadHarderPaducah2021,” and encourages people to prioritize reading and to “read harder,” as the name suggests.

“I contacted Book Riot and they were like, ‘Of course, that’s what it’s there for,’ ” she said. “It’s for everybody to use, just make it your own, so I made it for us, so that the hashtags would come back to me and just kind of went from there.”

Wyant recently launched it on social media and plans to introduce the challenge to Tilghman students today, where they can make their own reading goal and enjoy some cookies and doughnuts. However, she’s hoping for and encourages teachers, the school district and the local community to join too.

“It’s for our students, but it’s (also) to build a culture of reading in our community, starting with our young people and then for all of us,” she added. “When our adults value reading, then our children will too. That’s the kind of the idea behind it.”

Readers may participate in this challenge by following “#readharderpaducah2021” on Instagram or checking out the “Read Harder Paducah 2021” group on Facebook. They can share books using the hashtag and be part of an online discussion.

Another local librarian, Amy Sullivan, personally plans to participate in the reading challenge. She works at Matheson Library, as the director of library services at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

“This inspired me as a librarian and a reader for my whole life,” Sullivan said.

“The pandemic has really taken a toll on me, personally. I have not been motivated to read and I don’t know why, for whatever reason, but I hadn’t been and Beth’s group came on the scene suddenly in the midst of my trying to figure out why I can’t make time to read. Her challenge inspired me to just read harder. It coincided with where my thoughts were.”

Sullivan said she’s since turned over a new leaf and got her books back out, ready to tackle a long reading list. She’s got four books going now, and described reading as a “lifelong skill.”

“It is one of the most important skills that you can acquire at a young age and you must continue to exercise throughout your entire lifetime,” she said. “You just get better with more practice — just like anything, with any sport, any activity — and it’s something that you can’t let go.”

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