Monday, June 18, 2007

Article Note: On Academic Libraries and RA

Citation for the article:

Elliot, Julie. "Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.3 (Spring 2007): 34-43.

Read via Academic Search Complete.

I have always believed that we should be promoting recreational reading as well as the usual academic fare for our students and the rest of the academic community. It is not an idea that is always reinforced by others, but I try to do my part anyhow. One area in which I am doing it is with the Spanish selections I acquire as part of my collection development duties. Do I get the occasional frown or grumble from the faculty when they see something non-academic in the new Spanish books list? Sure. I go ahead and buy the recreational stuff anyhow. For one, it is something I think is needed given our demographic. And two, for those learning to read in Spanish, having something recreational may actually be a bonus. I was encouraged when I came across this article.

Here is the question that the author was exploring:

"It is also unclear what academic librarians were doing in addition to reading programs to promote extracurricular reading, and if they weren't promoting extracurricular reading, why not?"(34)

Here is then what the author found out initially:

"What I found was that it was not only elitism among past librarians that hampered the concept (or that could impede its future) but rather the same three culprits that hamper just about every project in our profession: budget, staff time, and space" (35).

Some of this is familiar. The usual trio of obstacles are pretty much a fact of daily life around here, but one just copes and moves along anyways with what can be done. As for the elitism, I am thinking it is not just the old timers, so to speak. I am thinking there is a new form of elitism in many of the L2 rhetoric where it seems traditional reading is allowed to wither or alienated because it does not fit within the cool toys schemes. I will add a bit more to this later on.

The author begins with a short section on the history of extracurricular reading and academic libraries. We see different options used over time, all with the idea of educating a whole student. Creating a well-rounded individual seems to be part of those efforts. Then comes the decline of the promotional efforts. However, the author's survey reveals that this is not hopeless. In many cases, RA is alive and well in academic campuses, and in other cases, efforts are getting underway.

Some ideas and efforts then:

  • "Displays and browsing areas are common methods for promoting extracurricular activities" (37). Recently, at the suggestion of some colleagues, our library put in place a small browsing area for leisure reading. The recent stats reveal it is getting use, which provides encouragement for this to continue. You see, give the students some good casual reading, and they will find it.
  • "Librarians at Gwynedd-Mercy College have created a rotating display called 'What College Students Are Reading!' The librarians choose the titles from the monthly survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education" (37). I love this idea. Given our crunch for space, I am not as sure we could spare the space. However, we could probably take this concept to a virtual space and provide the list in the library blog. It certainly sounds like something nice to add to my student resources blog.
  • In fact, the article also mentions that some libraries do review books on the library blogs. My concern is the usual one of staff commitment. It does not work if there is not some degree of commitment on the part of other librarians to do this in any consistent fashion. "Blogging titles in the popular reading collection have played a role in increased circulation at their library, noted Moore. 'It's common to have people ask for books that have been reviewed on the blog . . . I do believe that the Web site, and the staff's commitment to reading and blogging, and the time and dollars invested in the small collection, all played a part in getting those [circulation] numbers turned around'" (38).
  • "Book lists are another economical way to promote reading on campus, although more than (55.7 percent) of those surveyed do not use them" (38). I say make the lists anyways. Make them available in print and online. And distribute them to faculty, staff, students.
  • New books areas are always popular. I know our New Books Shelf is a popular stop in our library.
  • Eastern Illinois University has a graphic novel collection. We have bought some titles, but I think it is time we buy a lot more and seriously build a collection, both for academic interest as well as for recreational reading.
  • Another possibility: go where the students are at. Use tools like MySpace and Facebook. For instance, ". . .'it would be cool to have a library page on MySpace for students to post what they are currently reading,' wrote Hartman" (40).
However, there are always complications and problems, which the author addresses as well.

  • "'People are concerned about it being perceived that money being spent on nonacademic pursuits could leave the library open to budget cuts,' wrote Moritz" (39). In my case, since the budget is tight and getting tighter, I say let's do it anyways. No, I am not saying be irresponsible about collection development, but if this important, and I happen to think it is, we should then make any effort we can to promote it, even if it means buying little things here and there to gradually build up. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day.
  • "Another argument for why academic librarians do not promote extracurricular reading is that it might detract from the image of the librarian as information specialist and might ally academic librarians too closely to their public library counterparts" (39). I hate that notion that somehow public librarians are beneath us academics (something that, unfortunately, seems alive and well in any references to state conferences, for instance). We should be collaborating a lot more, and RA is one area for that. After all, public librarians do have vast experience in the area. Why not tap into that? In my view, why should the public librarians have all the fun? I happen to like leisure reading, read extensively, and love telling others about it. What rule is there I have to keep that out of my academic practice? None.
Ms. Elliot quotes a commentary by Barbara Fister on the recent OCLC Perceptions report. I am going to post the entire comment here, as I think it is important, then throw my humble two pennies in. Ms. Fister says:

"The authors of the study didn't seem to allow for the idea that this was a good thing [the idea of libraries being associated with books], except that perhaps we could convert those warm, fuzzy feelings into a more correct understanding that libraries are about information in many formats. All of which gave the feeling that, in fact, many librarians have contempt for books and reading. And ordinary readers. I do think we need to help people understand what riches we have available, but it seems as if we're embarrassed about the number of books we have and would prefer to be in some other 'business' rather than books. Most likely competing with Google to be the authoritative mass aggregator of information" (qtd. in 39).

As I was reading that, I thought of a recent item I saw in the blog Library Stuff. There, Steven points to an article out of the Charlotte Observer (for June 10th, 2007) where "Quiet? Libraries Shelve Old Image." While the notion of redefining the library and bringing in new users is certainly a good thing, doing it at the expense of regular or traditional users who may wish to have some quiet to actually read is not the way to do it. And yet, I constantly see this seeming disdain for anyone who may be asking for some peace and quiet in the name of modernization and being hip. It really is as if somehow the librarians were suddenly embarrassed to have something called books in their buildings. And while we are on the issue of manners and technology, here is another piece I saw a while back on the Los Angeles Times (for April 10, 2007) on "Shhh--the one thing you won't hear in the library." I found it via the Librarian's Rant blog. It's stuff like that which makes me wonder at times about our profession and where exactly they have their priorities and values.

Ms. Elliot also points out that another concern is that academic librarians usually lack training in RA (40). Well, let me reassure her. I am very well trained as I took at least two courses in RA when I was in library school. I do have to point out that this was something I had to seek out. The academic track does not really encourage such courses, but I went and did it anyhow. For one, the courses were fun; they featured some of the best teachers in library school, which, incidentally, were adjuncts. Two, I had to cover my bases; I could have been hired in a public library. Three, I do use what I learned in those courses in my work now. And I do keep up with RA via reading and various online resources. It is a skill one does have to continue refining like any other. It is a small part of the reason I post about the books I read in my blogs too.

So, why should we persevere and keep doing RA, or start doing it if we are not?

"A conviction of its importance in the overall education of college students, and a sense of personal fulfillment is why many of the librarians interviewed continue to promote extracurricular reading." (40).

However, as usual, to make things work you do need some support to build something that will last:

"Having a supportive director and colleagues is key to the success of academic library reading promotion" (40).

The article includes two appendixes: one listing the URL's for various academic programs, and the other has the survey instrument. So, go out there and promote some reading. And do keep reading yourselves as well.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." --Ray Bradbury

Update note (6/18/2007): I had seen this post earlier, but forgot about it briefly. It seemed appropriate as an addition to the idea that somehow libraries being associated with books is not as evident. So, they ask "Where are the books?" Found via the Libraries and Librarians Rock blog.

No comments: