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Leisure Reading in a College Library

July 22, 2013

Leisure Reading Collection


It’s time for true confessions, and I must stress that what follows are my personal musings, and are not necessarily those of my colleagues or of other members of the College & Research Division.

In a recent regional meeting that represents a variety of types of libraries, one public librarian mentioned an upcoming event featuring Nicholas Sparks.  My reaction?  “Who?”  Upon a moment’s reflection, I realized that I have, of course, heard of Sparks and I believe that once upon a time I read one his books, but the works he produces are not those that I regularly encounter in my academic library.  I quipped at that meeting, “I could walk blindfolded to – and talk extensively about – the New Cambridge Medieval History reference set, but Nicholas Sparks? Not so much.”

My library prides itself on building a collection that supports the undergraduate curriculum (a noble venture, if I do say so), but that has not included putting much weight behind developing a collection that will encourage students to read outside of course requirements.  If studies show – and they do – that students who read for pleasure have more expansive vocabularies, better reading comprehension, and stronger verbal skills,[1] why are colleges (like mine) not directing more resources, both financial and human, into cultivating and promoting leisure reading collections?

Many schools have adopted small collections, such as the collection that my library leases.  It provides our students with access to some best-selling titles, both fiction and non-fiction, but it is small.  We include that collection in the freshman library orientation game, we have promoted it from time to time in the college student newspaper, and we include notice of popular new additions to the leisure reading collection on the library’s digital sign and in our table tent signs.  I suppose that we do an adequate job of making it known that we have such an offering, but I do not think we are really encouraging our students to pick up any of those books to read for the pure joy of it.

In my opinion, we do college students a disservice by not providing anything along the lines of readers’ advisory.  Of course there are those students who do read for the fun of it, and who have befriended the librarians, and who may talk with us about book preferences with us on occasion, but we offer no across-the-board reading suggestions.

We have the fortunate circumstance of being located one city block away from a wonderful public library, and our students (by merely showing their college ID card) can sign up for borrowing privileges from that expansive collection, but I fear that by saying, “If you want something fun to read, you should walk to the public library,” we are furthering a culture wherein college students rarely read anything that is outside of class requirements.  As a member of a profession at least largely dedicated to the culture of the book and the printed word (either in print or online), this neglect of leisure reading in an academic climate troubles me.

Alison Gregory – Lycoming College

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelly permalink
    July 22, 2013 6:31 pm

    Our leisure-reading collection is comprised of donations; we don’t actively add to it. The only times it gets used are at the very beginning of a term, when students aren’t bogged down in homework yet, or during semester breaks, when faculty and staff pop in and are dumbfounded that we don’t have hardcover, audio, and large-print versions of all of the latest and greatest bestsellers. I’ve been an avid pleasure-reader my whole life, but even I didn’t read for fun except on breaks during college; I had far too much class reading to do.

  2. July 24, 2013 5:41 pm

    Yes, my own leisure reading experience during college was similarly stunted. There was precious little time for non-required reading, though I did manage to sneak some in during fall break, Thanksgiving, spring break, and Easter. There is little we can do to give students more time for reading, but I think that by making leisure reading a more accessible and “expected” part of the campus culture, we could increase the likelihood that students would pick up novels to read now and then. Our campus has seen multiple attempts by students to implement book chat groups – they have yet to really take root, but our library is trying to encourage and support these student organizations and hopefully that’s one step in the right direction.

  3. Heather permalink
    October 2, 2013 1:58 am

    My University had a decent leisure reading section, but did not promote it. I am an avid reader so sought it out, otherwise, I do not think I would have known that authors such as Stephen King were part of the collection. I also learned that I could borrow leisure books from other academic libraries through the loan system. I agree with you that these services should be marketed more. How many students realize they can borrow “fun” reading materials to help them wind down from the school day? Do they realize they can request books they want to read for fun from other libraries for free? Even if I could not find the materials I wanted at my academic library, I could request them sent for pickup there. Although, I do agree with you that leisure reading does build vocab, and is positive, I would like to pose some potential questions.

    1. The library only has a certain amount of money to allocate to collections. Do you think the faculty may feel the budget does not allow for more leisure readings being added, and they must focus on providing up to date academic sources instead? Would you allocate less resources to academic literature to build a larger leisure section?

    2. If the library can not afford the collections, should there be other services set in place? Donations of leisure books? A book trade club?

    3. You mentioned the public library system. The academic library may consider the public library as covering leisure reading materials, so does not feel the need to duplicate materials.They provide the most prevalent materials for academic research and leave the leisure reading for public libraries.Is this a possibility?

    4. As gregory258 mentioned, will the students check out the leisure materials? Will they have time to? The academic school would have to consider these questions as well.

    I am not saying your perspective is wrong, and as a person who reads over 50 books a year for leisure I loved having non academic books at my disposal through the University library. I just wanted to provide some questions for everyone to consider and open up a dialog.


    • October 3, 2013 12:50 pm

      Good thoughts, Heather. Here are my musings on the questions you’ve posed:

      1. I am in the fortunate position where the funds for leisure reading come from a separate source than do academic book funds, so we actually do have some flexibility in allocation of funds, though that pool is still small. We will never be able to provide all of the leisure reading that our population might want, but we can at least do *something*.

      2. In addition to our leased leisure collection of new hardcover books, we have two small areas on campus called Casual Collections. These are paperback, donated items, and these collections operate on the “take a book, leave a book” model. One of them sees some usage, perhaps in part due to its proximity to the coffee shop on campus.

      3. We are working with our local public library (only one block from the college library) to find ways to entice our students to make use of their vast leisure reading collection. This is a win-win for everyone – we don’t need to try to duplicate materials, our students gain free access to a wealth of titles (both print and e-book), and the public library receives a boost in usage. It feels like an uphill battle to get students to catch on, but we’re working on it!

      4. Our leisure collection does have usage among students, but it’s small. I think it worth pursuing though, because I regularly hear students say things like, “Wow, I didn’t know you had these books here! I love (fill in the author)!” and that indicates to me that there are students who will make use of leisure reading, if we can help them have access to enough of it.

      Surely not every student will devour novels throughout the semester, but we owe it to the ones who will to make a serious effort to connect them to the books they want. I think that there are ways to do it without spending much (partnering with the public library, promoting the donated collections, putting leisure reading in a prominent place within the library, etc.), and that’s always good news in our field!

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