Learning from Leisure Reading: A Study of Adult Public Library Patrons

Article excerpt

Using a combination of surveys and interviews, this research project explores the relationship between educational and recreational outcomes of leisure reading, the importance of learning to the leisure reading experience, the role of learning in leisure reading, and the educational outcomes reported by leisure readers. Interview transcripts and survey data were used to create a model of four categories of educational outcomes from leisure reading: (1) people and relationships; (2) countries, cultures, and history; (3) life enrichment; and (4) different perspectives. The article concludes with recommendations for integrating these results into practice and suggestions for further research.

In 2000, Catherine Sheldrick Ross published, "Finding without Seeking: What Readers Say about the Role of Pleasure Reading as a Source of Information." (1) This was one of several articles that resulted from her multiyear study of readers. (2) Over the course of several years, Ross and her students interviewed 181 readers about leisure reading. "Finding without Seeking" focuses on one facet of her interviews. Ross and her students asked subjects to tell them about the one book that had the greatest meaning for them. As part of the larger discussion of their great book, nearly all of the subjects reported some educational outcomes of fiction reading, the most common being awakenings, new perspectives, and the expansion of possibilities. The purpose of this study is to look further at what, in terms of education, readers get from leisure reading materials, by asking the readers themselves about educational outcomes during leisure reading experiences. For the sake of clarity and inclusivity, in this article the term leisure reading will be used to refer to all types of recreational or pleasure reading, including fiction and nonfiction.

Based on Ross's research and anecdotal evidence about educational outcomes from leisure reading, this project proposes to investigate the relationship between educational and recreational outcomes of leisure reading, using a survey instrument and follow-up interviews. The hypotheses are that there will be a relationship between educational and recreational outcomes for leisure readers and that educational outcomes will be an important aspect of the leisure reading experience. It is also thought that there will be more than one type of educational outcome and that the different outcomes will have varying levels of importance for individual readers.

One of the ideas investigated in this project was the concept of a single book or reading experience serving multiple purposes. The specific area of interest was books that are traditionally marketed as leisure reading materials, on the theory that while a book may serve the primary purpose of leisure reading material, it may also serve a secondary purpose as an educational tool. And for some people, this secondary role may be of great importance. This is important for librarians to understand because in order to be able to suggest leisure reading materials, they need to understand the potential multiple purposes that a leisure book may serve. Like many aspects of reading, these secondary purposes will vary among readers because readers are individuals and interact with the text in their own unique ways. It is hoped that this research will provide a broad understanding of the educational purpose served by leisure reading materials, specifically regarding the different types of educational outcomes, and in this way help librarians to better understand and serve the readers who form one of the most important user groups of libraries.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Fiction Readers and Readers' Advisory Services

In 1996, Yu and O'Brien published a literature review, "Domain of Adult Fiction Librarianship" in Advances in Librarianship. (3) Their thorough and lengthy article covered all the major areas of fiction librarianship, including a definition of fiction librarianship, fiction as a type of library material, fiction acquisition, fiction processing, fiction representation and retrieval, fiction promotion, readers' advisory (RA) services (reader development), collection management, and most importantly for this article, a section on understanding fiction readers. …