Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Reading Matters in the Academic Library: Taking the Lead from Public Librarians

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Reading Matters in the Academic Library: Taking the Lead from Public Librarians

Article excerpt

Academic libraries have been rapidly changing for some time as resources, reference, and instruction move online. E-resources of all types--books, articles, indexes, reference materials, maps, statistical data, government publications, and videos--are increasing in inverse proportion to the decrease in print/physical materials. Similarly every year, face-to-face reference transactions decline while virtual reference services expand. Instruction is also undergoing a substantial change in direction. The growth rate for online courses in the United States is currently 21 percent compared to 2 percent for higher education in general. (1) As more students take courses and entire programs online, librarians are increasingly serving a body of distance learners who want customizable, flexible, and technology-based services. Library instruction has started to move online to provide convenient service for off-campus students. It also supplies point-of-need assistance for a generation of students who, as the Horizon report points out, expect "to work, learn, and study wherever and whenever they want.... Mobiles contribute to this trend, where increased availability of the Internet feeds the expectation of access." (2) With collections, reference, and instruction shifting to the virtual realm, our users have less incentive to visit the library. University administrators know that our libraries are attracting fewer people and may find it increasingly difficult to justify the expense of large, underutilized buildings.

Not only do students have fewer reasons to visit us, but they also believe that libraries lack relevance in their lives. According to an OCLC report, libraries are not college students' first choice for reading material or research: 66 percent believe bookstores are the best place for current reading materials and 94 percent consider search engines a good fit with their lifestyle. (3)

This article explores the idea of revitalizing academic libraries by reconsidering the place of pleasure reading in them. In the last quarter century, considerable research has been conducted on reading, research that redresses a large gap in our understanding. The first part of this paper looks at what we now know about its many benefits--advantages that are not as well known in the academic library world as the public. The second half examines readers' advisory services that we can borrow from public librarians, services that could attract new users and promote lifelong reading.


Before turning to studies on reading, we will briefly look at academic libraries in the wider context of both public libraries and historical circumstances. Public libraries have faced many of the same challenges as their academic counterparts. They too have seen reference queries consistently decline over the last decade. Yet anyone who has visited a public library lately knows that the majority of them are active, bustling places. Public libraries have transformed from warehouses for resources to community-, user-, and reader-centric spaces. Programming such as author readings, activities for newcomers, lectures by experts in various fields, book club meetings, and a wide variety of workshops have all combined to reinvent the public library as a gathering space for community. Public library collections have become more user-driven as videos, audiobooks, CDs, and MP3 books have taken their place alongside the once book-dominated shelves.

Above all, public libraries have become centers for pleasure reading. People, as Saricks points out, "come to libraries for more than stock quotations, health information, and how-to guidance; they also come ... for stories that challenge, inspire, or take them away when the world becomes too much." (4) Since fiction accounts for roughly 60 percent or more of adult circulation figures, (5) it is not surprising that readers' advisory services have overtaken the reference void. …

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