Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Academic Libraries

By Elliott, Julie | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Academic Libraries


Elliott, Julie, Reference & User Services Quarterly


In her 2007 column "Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion" (RUSQ 46:3), Julie Elliott looked at the history of Readers' Advisory (RA) and extracurricular reading in academic libraries, and made a cogent argument for the reintegration of readers' services into academic libraries. In the following column, she expands on this concept, exploring some of the barriers that are faced in offering or expanding RA services in colleges and universities. As in her earlier article, Elliott surveys practitioners in academic institutions where RA is not currently practiced in any focused fashion. She outlines the issues surrounding establishment of leisure reading promotion and makes suggestions for ways to take advantage of existing collections as well as to work collaboratively to expand the opportunities for promoting and supporting extracurricular reading among college and university students.

Elliott organizes the One Book, One Campus events at Indiana University-South Bend as well as the library's speaker series. She is an active participant in the promotion of RA services, and she serves on RUSA's Collection Development and Evaluation Section (RUSA CODES) Readers' Advisory Committee. Elliott also edits the "By the Book" column for Public Libraries and currently serves on ALA's Notable Books Council.--Editor

While I noted in my earlier article, "Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion," (RUSQ 46:3), that many colleges are finding ways to promote reading to their students, many students are not taking advantage of these services. A study by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) found that 65 percent of college freshmen spend less than an hour a week on leisure reading, and by the time they are seniors, one in three of them will do no leisure reading at all. (1) The Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2007 American Time Use Survey found that, on weekends, people aged 15 to 19 spent approximately 16 minutes reading for pleasure. Adults aged 20 to 24 spend approximately 7 minutes on the weekend doing leisure reading. (2) This is a significant drop from the 2006 survey, where adults aged 20 to 24 were spending 14 minutes reading for pleasure during the weekends. (3)

With new technologies creating myriad ways for young adults to get their information, why should reading books outside of their curriculum matter at all? One reason is that literacy rates for college students are on the decline. A 2005 survey done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that the average prose literacy scores for adults with bachelor's degrees had dropped 11 points since 1992; adults with graduate degrees fared worse, dropping 13 points. Prose literacy is defined as "It]he knowledge and skills needed to perform prose tasks (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use information from continuous texts)." (4) The same survey found that only 31 percent of current college graduates could be considered "proficient" in reading prose, and only 41 percent of those with graduate degrees would be considered "proficient." (5) Being "proficient" in reading prose meant that a person could "compare viewpoints in two editorials." (6) Furthermore, 3 percent of college graduates in 2003 were considered to have "below basic" skills in prose literacy. (7)

Colleges should be concerned with declining literacy among their graduates because college graduates who are considered "proficient" in prose literacy are more likely to be employed than those who have only basic literacy skills. (8) In addition, a study by the NEA found that active readers are more likely to vote and to volunteer in their community. (9)

Every college wants to graduate students who are proficiently literate, can successfully gain employment, and are civically engaged. It should be noted that there are barriers that can keep college libraries from adding extracurricular reading promotion to their already lengthy list of priorities.

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