Elliot, Julie, "Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Libraries." Reference and User Services Quarterly 48.4 (2009): 340-346.
Read in print.
Julie Elliot's article now is a follow-up to her 2007 article, which I read as well. If you are interested in the topic of RA and academic libraries, you may also want to read this other 2009 article from JAL. The article looks now at specific barriers that prevent academic libraries from promoting extracurricular reading and RA.
For starters, Elliot does go back to her previous article where she noted that "many colleges are finding ways to promote reading to their students, [but] many students are not taking advantage of these services" (340). She cites the work of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in regards to college freshmen spending less time on leisure reading (find a list of NEA research reports here. The one in question is #47. The direct link is a PDF). She argues that colleges should be concerned with the signs of declining literacy, but she also points out that colleges do face barriers as well in promoting reading. Those barriers are the central issues of her article.
The article draws on a small survey of library deans and directors that the author conducted using SurveyMonkey. In the end, she got 38 people to answer the survey, and even for that, not all questions were answered fully. A limitation is that this makes a pretty small sample. So, what are some of the issues?
- First, we have the big issue, that is, the budget. Although this is certainly important, and I can testify to this given that we have a pretty tight collection development budget ("tight" being the polite word), there can also be some attitude issues. For instance, one of the responders pretty much says that he would not buy materials that could be available in a public library (341). I wonder if that is a common academic librarian attitude. So, that librarian's answer is to just send them to the public library? While I am not saying we should open the floodgates and just go with a "give them what they want, get 20 copies of Harry Potter books" initiative, there are certainly many excellent books that can find a place in an academic library that a public library would have and that could work to better promote reading in our students as well as our academic community (yes, the staff read too).
- There are still some library deans and directors who just simply do not believe in extracurricular reading promotion (342). Yes, we apparently have some of those anti-reading freaks leading some of our libraries. Sorry, but I have to say it: a good librarian is a librarian who reads and promotes reading. I do not think it is a badge of honor to take pride in not reading as an academic librarian. It should be a badge of shame as far as I am concerned (you can see my previous thoughts on this here). However, there is hope since the author does say that "most respondents were more positive about leisure reading promotion, even if they do not have the resources to pursue it" (342).
- "By helping local colleges promote leisure reading, public librarians not only assist their academic library colleagues, but also lay the foundation for the next generation of readers at the public library" (342). In plain English, we can help each other out.
- Your public library can allow college students to check out books from them, and I would say this is specially important in the case where the college library simply does not have enough recreational or leisure reading materials. Elliot also suggests seeing if the college library would allow the public library to send over some of its booklists for students to see and use.
- "Perhaps the most obvious is to go directly to the students themselves and find out what would encourage them to read more for pleasure, or to determine whether there is any desire for them to do leisure reading at all" (343). This is certainly a study that I would not mind doing on my campus, but sadly, it is something that probably would not get much encouragement from my superiors. And yet, in terms of outreach, we probably could get quite a bit of information not only on reading habits but also on possible interests for planning library programming.
- A question, which I think I already know the answer the twopointopians, to borrow the Annoyed Librarian's term, might give: "Do the Internet, instant messaging, reading blogs, games, and other electronic media, which many claim have replaced reading, have a detrimental effect, or is that exaggerated?" (343). I think the answer is more complicated than the usual cheerleader answer of anything goes, the Internet and its content are all cool, and books are going the way of the dinosaur. You can achieve a lot of reading with online resources and tools, but there is also something to say for prose and print. This leads to the other question posed in the article.
- The question: "If the prose literacy skills of our college graduates are eroding, are they being replaced with other skills, and do those new skills make up for what is being lost in the critical thinking abilities that come from, for example, being able to read and compare two newspaper editorials?" (343). Even if we replace "newspaper editorials" for "blog postings," I would say the answer is still "no." There is enough literature out there that does show we have to be concerned over lack of critical thinking skills in our college graduates, and a decline in reading, substantial reading that is, probably does not help things either.
- Something to consider: when do students lose interest in reading for pleasure. Elliot argues it does not necessarily happen when they get to college. Does it happen in K-12? Could the lack of school librarians have something to do with it? I'd say probably. Those are questions Elliot raises, and she asks how all libraries can work together to bring students to reading. But in the end, this is the key question: "we should decide if leisure reading is a skill worth preserving for future generations" (343). If we look at today's situation where many shortsighted people would like nothing better than to close public libraries, along with school libraries and more often than not academic libraries, then I guess the decision has been made. On the other hand, I don't think we as a society should give up the fight to preserve reading for future generations. Maybe that is another reason why I became a librarian.