Friday, June 12, 2009

Article Note: On Promoting Leisure Reading in Libraries

Citation for the article:

Bosman, Renee, et. al. "Growing Adult Readers: Promoting Leisure Reading in Academic Libraries." Urban Library Journal 15.1 (2008): 46-58.

The journal is open access. Main page here.

I am not sure if it is because it is summer, or it is just the type of article that has caught my eye as of late, but here is another one on promoting reading in the academic library. We are talking here about reading for pleasure, which I personally believe we should be doing more in our academic libraries. This barely gets a nod from library administrators, many who think that if you just put a small shelf with some popular fiction, that such will be good enough. Sure, we need to offer the materials, but we also need to work on promoting them as well as promoting the importance of reading for leisure overall. The article I am featuring this week gives some specific ways to promote leisure reading in an academic library. It can provide a good starting point. I like how they consider it literacy outreach. I certainly intend to use that term as I work to expand our efforts here.

The authors, who are from Virginia Commonwealth University (link to their Center for Institutional Effectiveness. From there, you can get the plan as a PDF), refer to their campus's strategic plan which makes references to focusing on the student experience in terms of research, scholarship, and creative activity. Since I am a curious boy, I rushed to go over and look at our own strategic plan, only to find it does not say as much on the matter. I am going on a limb here, but the plan does leave a lot of things out. It is big on learning for the workplace and being global and blah blah blah, but I don't see a whole lot about focusing on the student experience. It is more about cranking them out so they can be ready for the workplace. The point for me, after I managed to put aside my disappointment, is that I may have my work cut out for me. Then again, the way I see, it may mean job security for me. Anyhow, I do think reading promotion is important given the many benefits students gain from it and skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

Some notes then:

  • The kind of job I would like to have in an ideal world (or one of the jobs I would like to have): The VCU folks created an "Undergraduate Services Librarian" position, and in 2004 actually hired two people for the position to "design, promote, and assess library reference services that further undergraduate teaching and learning initiatives on the Monroe Park Campus" (47). That just rocks. Some of this is the kind of stuff that our Instruction Librarian and myself, as the Outreach Librarian, try to do in a scattershot approach. What we need is better coordination of the efforts, a very serious look at what we do now and what we could be doing, and then put it in a vision and goals so we can start implementing some things. I am thinking that now that our new reference librarian is here, we can probably put her to work. Plus, the library director recently requested that I rewrite and update our reference services standards. I am thinking the opportunity to put a few new things in is now.
  • What do we do here now for literacy outreach (that is mentioned in the article)? We do have a small browsing collection. We call it the Bestsellers Collection, and it is basically a McNaughton plan for popular fiction (well, it is somewhat narrow in the concept of popular, but let us not digress) and some nonfiction. I usually do a blog post when we receive new books for that collection, providing a brief note on each title. Sample here. This is dependent on whether the Acquisitions people send me a list in a timely manner for me to do the post. Since we do not get much rotation of the collection, months going by without something new is common. I use the library blog to do some reading promotion. The sample post is one way. I often try to announce literary awards with inclusion of notes on titles we may have. The challenge for me is that often we do not have titles that win awards. And yes, I have pointed this out to the powers that be. A lot of this is simply a budget matter, but also a lot of it is this kind of attitude. Another thing we do is display cases for various observances and themes. This can get challenging too (again, the lack of books in certain areas), but I am learning to improvise where I can.
  • Other things we do that are not mentioned in the article? How about here, here, and here? Yes, that is some of my handiwork, so to speak.
  • "While there are numerous studies that examine the reading behaviors college students, literature concerning the promotion of recreational reading and examples of literacy outreach resources are scarce, particularly those that frame these services within the context of the campus library as the 'third place,' regarding both its physical and online space" (49). I like that idea of the third place in the context of promoting the library not only as the place where the computers are at but also as the place where you might find some books you actually want to read.
  • I definitely liked the idea of their blog for books, Book reMarks. As described in the article, it seems a great tool to promote pleasure reading. According to the article, the blog was started "with the purpose of highlighting the VCU Libraries' collections and identifying leisure reading materials for our students and faculty" (51). A great idea. I don't think we need to have a separate blog just yet. I think we can use The Patriot Spot (our library blog) to do some of that work. I have been giving thought to diversifying the content on the blog, and this may be one way to do it, if I can find enough books to highlight. We need more than the usual academic fare we get in the new books section (when we get something in the new books). And yes, I have thought of spreading the work, so to speak, but getting staff collaboration has not been easy. As the article points out, "it can also be difficult to solicit enough reviews from busy library workers to ensure a steady stream of fresh content" (52). Again, new librarians (we have two) may mean I can try again to get a collaborator or two. We'll see, so stay tuned.
  • An idea from the article I liked: "A recent edition of reviews commemorating Women's History Month written by members of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas help meet the goal of using library outreach services as an innovative way to foster dialogue with patrons" (51-52). I think I can reach out to one or two of the campus groups here to do this kind of thing. I really like this idea, and it sounds like something to explore for fall.
Overall, this is a nice little article with some good ideas that can get a librarian in an academic library started. VCU is bigger than we are, but I can see that these ideas can work in a smaller university like ours.

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