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Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure


Abstract and Figures

News reports and well-publicized government studies have led to a popular perception that reading is an endangered activity, particularly among youth. In this study we surveyed college students, librarians, and college writing instructors about students' attitudes toward reading for pleasure, examine barriers to voluntary reading among college students, and explore academic libraries' potential role in promoting reading. Our findings suggest that students have a far higher interest in reading than is typically believed and recommend steps academic librarians can take to encourage reading for lifelong learning.
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Reading, Risk, and Reality: College
Students and Reading for Pleasure
Julie Gilbert and Barbara Fister
Julie Gilbert is Academic Librarian, Assistant Professor, and Barbara Fister is Academic Librarian, Profes-
sor, at the Folke Bernadoe Memorial Library at Gustavus Adolphus College; e-mail: Jgilber2@gustavus.
edu,© Julie Gilbert and Barbara Fister
News reports and well-publicized government studies have led to a
popular perception that reading is an endangered activity, particularly
among youth. In this study we surveyed college students, librarians, and
college writing instructors about students’ attitudes toward reading for
pleasure, examine barriers to voluntary reading among college students,
and explore academic libraries’ potential role in promoting reading. Our
findings suggest that students have a far higher interest in reading than
is typically believed and recommend steps academic librarians can take
to encourage reading for lifelong learning.
he news about reading is
chronically catastrophic:
Reading is at risk,1 in steep de-
cline,2 imperiled particularly
among young people,3 the “born digital”
generation, so bewitched by Facebook,
texting, and multichannel stimulation
that their aention span has shrunk to
the size of a tweet.4 Jeremiads about the
decline of reading are common enough
to constitute a genre.5 Should academic
libraries, faced with tight budgets and
ever-rising costs for digital subscriptions,
do anything to encourage voluntary read-
ing, given that all indications suggest our
students are not likely to be interested?
This study asks several related ques-
tions: What are undergraduates’ aitudes
toward reading for pleasure? How do
their experiences compare to academic
librarians’ perceptions of student reading
habits and preferences? Do colleges and
universities unknowingly erect barriers to
reading for pleasure? Do academic librar-
ies have any reason to encourage reading
books and other material that does not
directly support the curriculum and, if
so, what methods would students favor?
To address these questions, we admin-
istered surveys about recreational read-
ing to college students at one institution
and to academic librarians nationally.
For the purposes of the study, we dene
“recreational reading” as any reading
voluntarily undertaken that has not been
assigned for class. We include magazines,
newspapers, and the Internet as sources of
recreational reading, in addition to books.
We also use the term “recreational read-
ing” interchangeably with “leisure read-
ing,” “reading for fun,” and “reading for
pleasure.” We supplemented our ndings
by conducting an exploratory small-scale
survey of writing instructors, by probing
conicting claims about the purposes of
reading made by teachers of literature
and on Web sites of college reading in
common programs, and by examining the
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 475
content of writing samples from students
enrolled in an elective course on books
and culture to see what motivates their
feelings about reading.
We were surprised by what we learned.
Students may not nd time to do much
voluntary reading; but, if what they tell us
is true, they do take pleasure in reading
and would welcome eorts from libraries
to help them discover reading material.
Differences between Voluntary
Reading and Academic Reading
There is a body of compelling evidence
that reading for pleasure is benecial,6
not just for increasing literacy but because
information encountered in leisure read-
ing informs readers about the world they
live in and about themselves.7 Reading
for pleasure has been associated with
creativity8 and with improved academic
achievement.9 Some argue that reading
literature achieves many of the goals of
liberal education and can have a profound
eect on individuals’ lives.10
Reading assignments are commonly
used in the college years to convey
information in greater depth than can
be accomplished in class or to provide
exposure to important primary literature
in a discipline. Students oen need help
in learning how to do “close” or in-depth
analytical reading. In the eld of literary
studies, learning to read imaginative liter-
ature critically oen involves overcoming
common and ingrained reading practices.
Critical reading requires avoiding being
absorbed in a story—one of the great plea-
sures of the reading experience11—if that
emotional involvement inhibits analysis.
As one English professor put it, students
need to learn that reading, which may
seem eortless, is actually quite dicult.
Students’ enjoyment in reading literature,
he reported, “proved a serious obstacle
to the students’ ability to think critically
about the works and their own thinking.
It created a kind of ‘transparency eect’
in the reading experience, preventing
students from geing very far toward
reading in deliberate and self-conscious
ways.” Unskilled readers tend to focus
on what is happening to the characters
and must actively resist the lure of being
spellbound by the story in order to read
well. “Only trained readers have the skills
to negotiate, back and forth, the relation
between the textualities of ction and its
sublime imaginary constructions.”12 A
goal of his teaching is to turn naïve read-
ers into sophisticated ones, learning to go
beyond discussing the story to focus on
how the story works.
In a practical book of advice for lit-
erature teachers, Elaine Showalter points
out13 that teachers who are themselves
novelists oen teach reading ction as a
way of discovering the narrative shape
and meaning of one’s own life; but, more
commonly, English teachers, trained
in literary criticism, teach students to
avoid identification with characters.
To read critically means to understand
how a story is constructed and to relate
one text to another through thematic or
chronological connections. Though close
reading can provide its own pleasures of
discovery, Showalter acknowledges that
many readers feel it is no substitute for
feeling transported.
Rita Felski has argued that enchant-
ment as a quality of the reading experi-
ence is underrated by her fellow literary
scholars because it is associated with
women’s supposed tendency to succumb
to escapist fare and because it is believed
to be a cheap sleight-of-hand trick per-
formed by profit-driven mass media
concerns. She writes,
While much modern thought regu-
lates such hyper-saturations of
mood and feeling to the realm of
the child-like or the primitive, the
accelerating interest in affective
states promises enchantment is
richer and more multi-faceted than
literary theory has allowed; it does
not have to be tied to a haze of
romantic nostalgia or an incipient
fascism. Indeed, enchantment may
476 College & Research Libraries September 2011
turn out to be an exceptionally fruit-
ful idiom for rethinking the tenets of
literary theory.14
It may be that endorsing the power of
enchantment as a legitimate purpose for
literature might sanction students’ self-
directed reading. According to a study
of students’ beliefs about reading, Lydia
Burak15 found that students who believe
reading engages their imaginations and
is not a waste of time report the highest
motivation to read outside of class. Of the
201 students she surveyed, 63 percent re-
ported having read a book for pleasure in
the past semester. Over 90 percent agreed
with the statements that reading increases
knowledge, improves vocabulary, and
engages the imagination; 70 percent felt
it relieves stress; only a tiny minority of
5 percent agreed with the statement that
it was a waste of time.
Others who teach college literature
feel that popular literacy practices could
be studied in the classroom16 or that the
kinds of reading practiced by book clubs
might provide insights that could be use-
ful to teachers of literature.17 Still others
have focused their research entirely on
reading that happens outside academia,
such as Janice Radway’s study of romance
readers18 and Elizabeth Long’s research
into women’s book groups.19
Reading and the College Experience
The handful of studies that have been con-
ducted on college students’ recreational
reading practices suggest that students
themselves see voluntary reading and
assigned reading very dierently. A 1991
survey of over 300 seniors at a small
public liberal arts institution found that
88 percent of them engaged in reading for
pleasure, favoring literature and current
events as subject maer.20 A more recent
study21 of 539 students who completed
time-diary surveys found that “using the
Internet” was more popular with students
than recreational reading, but that Inter-
net use did not appear to displace reading
as an activity. Watching television was
less popular than reading for pleasure,
but students were more likely to watch
some television every day than to read
for pleasure. Reading assigned texts was
the least popular of the four activities,
but it consumed much of their time. In
a small-scale study by Hari and Jolie at
a large public university, students kept
detailed reading logs that demonstrated
they read a lot, both online and in print,
the subjects recording an average of 25
minutes a day reading print sources not
assigned for class and about twice that
much time reading online sources such
as e-mail, Facebook, and other Web sites.
“We found students who were actively
involved in their own programs of read-
ing aimed at values clarication, personal
enrichment, and career preparation,”
the authors reported. “In short, we dis-
covered students who were extremely
engaged with their reading, but not with
the reading that their class required.”22
One site for examining the contested
nature of reading is the “summer read-
ing” or “reading in common” programs
that have sprouted up on college cam-
puses in recent years. They typically in-
volve asking incoming rst-year students
to read a book in common for discus-
sion during orientation. Programming,
such as an author visit, lm viewing, or
other events may complement the read-
ing activity. Adopted from the popular
community reads movement started by
Nancy Pearl in Seale in 1998, reading in
common programs straddle the book club
orientation to reading as an opportunity
to discuss a book informally with others
in a social seing and the eat-your-vege-
tables imperative of an assigned reading.
A 2007 survey of college and university
staff who administer such programs23
found that faculty involvement was
listed as a strength when it was present,
and as a challenge when it was not. An
examination of Web pages24 of over 100
such programs suggests their goals, rather
than stressing the development of close
reading skills and an understanding of
literary traditions emphasized in many
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 477
English courses, are more focused on
building community, making the transi-
tion to college, exploring personal values,
and examining social issues. Though the
words “intellectual” and “academic” of-
ten appear in these statements of purpose,
the supporting materials tend to be mar-
keting information from publishers’ Web
sites and discussion questions that, like
many book discussion guides, emphasize
using the book discussion as a vehicle for
developing personal insights and social
Academic and public libraries have
typically defined their roles in regard
to reading promotion very dierently.
In public libraries, readers’ advisory has
seen a renaissance, though provision of
factual information remains a signicant
mission of public libraries. Academic
libraries, as a site of teaching, learning,
and discovery, tend to focus on helping
students and faculty nd resources for
their work. While public libraries strive to
help their patrons discover reading mate-
rial of choice, academic libraries are more
focused on locating materials that will
support a task. Could academic libraries
help provide a bridge between the kinds
of reading that Jolie and Hari found
engages students and the “institutional”
reading that undergirds the college cur-
Several academic libraries have pur-
sued recreational reading promotions.
Julie Ellio has twice surveyed academic
librarians about reading promotions in
their libraries and the barriers librarians
perceive to recreational reading on college
campuses. In 2007, Ellio25 found that
libraries engage in a variety of reading
promotion activities, such as one-book
programs, leisure reading collections, and
book lists. Librarians reported several bar-
riers toward promotion, such as impact
on sta time and collection development
budgets, lack of training in readers’ advi-
sory services, and a fear that promoting
recreational reading makes libraries look
less academic. In 2009, Ellio reported26
that librarians continue to nd lack of
funding and the impact on sta time to
be signicant barriers, as well as the lack
of interest in some sta to participate,
perceived low levels of student interest
in leisure reading, and acting within a
culture that does not value reading.
Tom Kirk recently reviewed the status
of “browsing collections” at academic
libraries and has suggestions for using
technology to help students develop the
habit of reading beyond required texts,
arguing that libraries should cultivate cu-
riosity; otherwise, the library may “dri
into an abdication of responsibility for
promoting reading among its students.”27
Pauline Dewan also makes a case for
creating popular reading collections in
academic libraries.”28 Ann Salter and
Judith Brook surveyed undergraduates
at two institutions29 and discovered that
a majority of respondents read for plea-
sure and are perhaps not as aliterate as
recent studies indicate. Salter and Brook
further encourage libraries to promote
recreational reading. Renee Bosman, John
Glover, and Monique Price30 support a
blog, a book swap and a READ program
in their library in part as a way to sup-
port the library as what Ray Oldenburg31
has called a “third place”—a social com-
munity seing that is not the workplace
and not home—where students can feel
comfortable both relaxing and learn-
ing. Heidi Gauder, Joan Giglierano, and
Christine H. Schramm32 developed a
Porch Reads program at the University
of Dayton that facilitates book discussions
among sophomore students and faculty;
students have responded positively to the
program. Bee Rathe and Lisa Blanken-
ship33 established a recreational reading
collection at their library that is separate
from the rest of the collection. A brief
survey of students who use the collection
report they appreciate a smaller, easier-to-
navigate collection. Rochelle Smith and
Nancy J. Young34 have provided practi-
cal ways of highlighting leisure reading
already in a library’s collection, such as
book lists, displays, tools such as NoveL-
ist, as well as using instruction sessions
478 College & Research Libraries September 2011
as an opportunity to inform students they
can also use the Reference Desk to nd
recreational reading. Finally, Mardi Ma-
hay35 outlined ways academic libraries
can sponsor reading outreach programs,
describing two programs facilitated by
the New Mexico State University Library.
The Study
To probe the notion that college students
are part of a demographic in which read-
ing is at risk, we surveyed our students
about their attitudes and experiences
with recreational reading; we also sur-
veyed academic librarians. The site of the
student survey, Gustavus Adolphus Col-
lege, is a small, private liberal arts college
located in southern Minnesota, educating
approximately 2,500 undergraduates. Our
students are primarily of “traditional”
ages, 18–22; and, though the college is
selective, data from the Wabash National
Study of Liberal Arts Education36 examin-
ing the incoming class of 2006 found that
our students on entering college were
no more likely to engage in unassigned
reading than students at all institutions
in the study, regardless of size, institution
type, or selectivity.
We conducted the student survey dur-
ing spring 2009. The survey instrument
was developed in-house by two librarians
working with an undergraduate research
scholarship recipient; survey questions
targeted student aitudes toward read-
ing, current practices, and perceived
barriers (Appendix A). The scholarship
recipient administered the survey to the
campus community by targeting faculty
who taught a variety of class levels in a
range of disciplines and asking permis-
sion to administer and collect the survey
during class, reaching 28.7 percent of the
student body. Students in every class were
informed that their participation in the
survey was anonymous and completely
voluntary. We received 717 completed
surveys from students who are a repre-
sentative sample of class year, gender, and
majors at Gustavus.
Our survey of academic librarians,
which was developed by the authors,
mirrors the student survey in several
ways (Appendix B). While surveying
students directly at other institutions
was beyond the scope of this study, the
librarian survey addresses perceptions
of undergraduate reading habits on
various campuses and what measures,
if any, academic librarians were taking
to promote leisure reading. We surveyed
librarians subscribed to the ILI-L e-mail
list37 maintained by the Instruction Sec-
tion of the Association of College and
Research Libraries as well as to reference
and instruction librarians at the 80 lib-
eral arts colleges that are members of the
Oberlin Group38 via group e-mail lists. We
received 342 responses from librarians at
a variety of institutions. Survey results
from both student and librarian surveys
were entered into the SPSS statistical
package to generate descriptive statistics
and to analyze relationships among key
Reading at Gustavus
Undergraduate students on our campus
report overwhelmingly that they like to
read for pleasure; almost all respondents
(93.0%) report that they enjoy leisure
reading. Although women are slightly
more likely than men to report that they
enjoy leisure reading (95.6% of women
compared to 88.7% of men), the high
percentage of men who enjoy reading is
encouraging, especially in light of stud-
ies indicating that men are less likely to
enjoy reading than women.39 We saw lile
dierence in reading paerns by class
year; this is perhaps not surprising, as the
majority of undergraduates at our insti-
tution are grouped closely in age. We do
see slight variation by majors, however.40
Humanities majors are almost unanimous
in their enjoyment of leisure reading
(99.0%), while preprofessional (nursing,
education, health, physical education, and
exercise science) majors and social science
majors report the lowest levels of reading
enjoyment, though approximately 90
percent of them report enjoying reading.
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 479
Still, we found signicant dierences in
reading habits among students in dier-
ent majors.
Students read broadly across a number
of genres (see table 1). Students report that
general ction is by far the most popular,
followed by mysteries, classics, and gen-
eral nonction. It should be noted that
our genre categories were open to inter-
pretation by respondents; a novel by Jane
Austen might be considered a classic by
one student and counted as general ction
by another. Also, there were several cat-
egories, such as graphic novels, that were
not specied on the survey but appeared
frequently as write-in choices. The table
does show us, however, that our students
have a wide range of reading interests and
that they are mainly interested in reading
ction of one sort or another.
Men are twice as likely as women
to read science ction, but women are
slightly more likely than men to read fan-
tasy. Perhaps not surprisingly, women are
much more likely to read romance than
men. Women are also more interested in
reading general ction, as almost nine in
ten women read ction compared to over
half of men.41 Women and men report
reading nonfiction at about the same
rates, however. There are slight variations
by class year, as rst-year students were
slightly less likely to read biographies and
other nonction than their peers (15.3%
of rst-year students read biographies as
compared to 26.0% of other class years
combined). A lile less than one in ve
rst-year students (19.8%) reads nonc-
tion, while results from the other classes
combined were closer to 1 in 3 (35.3%).
There are notable dierences among
majors. For example, humanities majors
are overwhelmingly more likely to read
classics than any other group of students.
They are also more likely to read fantasy
novels than their classmates. Natural sci-
ence majors are over two and a half times
more likely to read science ction than
ne arts majors and over three times more
likely to read science ction than preprofes-
sional majors. They are also far less likely
to read biographies and autobiographies.
Preprofessional majors are more likely
to read romance novels. Finally, ne arts
students are even slightly more likely than
humanities majors to read general ction.
The emerging differences exhibited by
students according to major has implica-
tions both on how we build our collection
of recreational reading and also how we
market it to various groups of students.
We asked respondents to provide
    
       
Women 16.0 31.0 42.4 44.6 37.3 87.8 23.7 31.0
Men 37.8 26.7 4.1 29.7 27.4 58.3 22.6 32.0
Humanities 28.0 42.0 28.0 43.0 65.0 86.0 27.0 38.0
20.3 26.6 28.5 40.1 28.0 71.0 27.1 30.4
38.2 29.5 20.2 34.7 30.6 75.7 16.8 33.5
10.4 25.5 37.7 43.4 22.6 79.2 25.5 31.1
Fine Arts 15.9 30.2 31.7 38.1 39.7 90.5 25.4 34.9
480 College & Research Libraries September 2011
specic examples of the works they like
to read in both ction and nonction.
Simply having this list will be useful for
our collection development purposes, as
it points out gaps in our collection. We
saw a range of ction titles that fall into
various categories:
Young adult fantasy titles, includ-
ing the Harry Poer and Twilight series, as
well as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
series and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus
Bestselling authors such as Dan
Brown, Jodi Picoult, and Nicholas Sparks,
all of whom appeared frequently on stu-
dents’ lists
Chick lit such as the Gossip Girl and
Shopaholic series
Horror and adventure authors,
including Stephen King and Clive Cussler
Literary fiction, such as works
wrien by Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret
Atwood, and Khaled Hosseini
Or, as one student summed up,
“Prey much anything”
Students identied nonction prefer-
ences more by topic than by specic title,
singling out interests in history, religion
(especially Christianity42), true crime,
and science.
Over half of all students report that
they like to read newspapers, and over
two-thirds of students indicate they enjoy
reading magazines (see table 2). Recogniz-
ing that students spend a lot of time read-
ing and composing on social networks,
we specically asked students to exclude
those sites when thinking about their
reading paerns on the Internet; with
that constraint, less than half report they
like reading for pleasure on the Internet.
The ndings do indicate, however, that
students do consider the Internet a source
for recreational reading.
Table 2 indicates dierences by gender,
including the fact that, while women
are more likely to read magazines, men
are more likely than women to read
newspapers and pursue reading on the
Internet. While there are not signicant
dierences among majors regarding their
likelihood of reading newspapers, we do
note some dierences regarding whether
or not they read magazines or read for
pleasure on the Internet. Students also
read a variety of newspapers, magazine,
and Internet sources, including major
newspapers; a wide range of magazines
including sports, lifestyle, gossip, and
news magazines; and primarily news
and sports sites on the Internet. In ad-
dition to conrming the hypothesis that
students include magazine, newspaper,
and the Internet in their understanding of
leisure reading, the data provide us with
multiple magazine and newspaper titles
that students prefer.
We also asked students approximately
how many hours a week they spend
reading for pleasure during the school
  
   
Women 44.3 67.0 37.5
Men 62.8 59.4 54.9
Humanities 51.0 50.0 50.0
Social Science 56.5 66.2 48.3
Natural Science 48.6 63.0 45.7
Preprofessional 48.1 69.8 38.7
Fine Arts 55.6 79.4 39.7
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 481
year (see table 3). Though students report
enjoying reading, most of them spend
very lile time reading anything that isn’t
assigned. While dierences between class
year and gender were not signicant, we
again found some dierences by major.
At least one-fourth of students in each
major division read less than two hours
(but more than one hour) per week.
Humanities majors read for pleasure at
a higher rate than other students; almost
one in ve humanities majors reads three
or more hours per week. On the other end
of the scale, almost half of preprofessional
majors read for pleasure less than one
hour a week, followed closely by almost
half of ne arts students. This is compared
to one-third of natural science and social
science majors and one in ve Humani-
ties majors.
Librarians’ Perceptions of Students’
Leisure Reading Practices
In our survey of academic librarians,
we learned that a large percentage of
librarians believe students do not par-
ticularly enjoy reading for pleasure and
that there was some ambivalence about
the role academic libraries should play
in reading promotion. We asked librar-
ians about how oen in their experience
students came to the library looking for
recreational reading materials. Almost
two-thirds (61.0%) report that students
“occasionally” look for recreational read-
ing materials in their libraries. Close to
one-tenth (9.2%) said “very frequently,”
but almost one-third (29.1%) said they
rarely see students looking for recreation-
al reading materials in their library. Al-
most no one said students never look for
recreational reading materials. Although
we cannot directly compare the librarian
survey data to the data about Gustavus
students, we can note that both surveys
suggest students at academic institutions
appear to have some degree of interest in
recreational reading.
We also asked librarians about their
perceptions of what students prefer to
read (see gure 1). (Results are presented
alongside responses from Gustavus
students for comparison purposes, even
though librarians at other institutions
could serve student populations that are
signicantly dierent from Gustavus stu-
dents.) The ndings have a few things in
common with what our students report:
general ction is very popular, as is genre
ction. We also asked survey respondents
to comment on specic titles or genres that
they see their students reading. Librarians
report that their students seek Christian
ction, young adult titles, graphic novels,
ethnic literature, and current bestsellers.
In short, librarians at other institutions
report that their students exhibit interest
in a wide variety of materials.
Barriers to Recreational Reading: The
Students’ Perspective
We asked Gustavus students about the
barriers they face for recreational read-
ing during the academic year (see table
    
     
Humanities 13.0 20.0 24.0 23.0 20.0
Social Science 8.7 33.8 29.5 15.5 12.1
Natural Science 11.6 32.9 34.7 10.4 10.4
Preprofessional 10.4 48.1 25.5 9.4 6.6
Fine Arts 7.9 44.4 25.4 7.9 14.3
482 College & Research Libraries September 2011
36.3 36.3
25.7 29.8
16.4 19.3
24.5 29.5 28.1
38.9 33.7
Fantasy Romance Mystery Classics General
Biography Nonficon
Librarian Percepon of What Students Read
Compared to Gustavus Students
Librarians Gustavus Students
4). The categories we constructed contain
overlap in terms of time; a student indi-
cating he or she has too much reading for
class, would rather socialize, and would
rather spend his or her time in other ways
all relate to the broader question of lack of
time. Although the question was perhaps
biased in its emphasis on time constraints,
the students were also given space to com-
ment on the barriers they face to leisure
reading. Respondents could choose as
many options as apply.
Even with the overlapping categories,
it is clear that the barriers to reading for
pleasure do not relate to enjoyment or
access. Lack of time to read for pleasure,
whether because of homework, a desire
to socialize, or a decision to spend time
in other ways, is the primary constraint.
This paern does not vary signicantly by
class year or gender, although women are
slightly more likely than men to indicate
they already have enough to do for class.
Once again we nd that the bigger dier-
ences arise by major. Humanities and ne
arts majors are less likely than their coun-
terparts to say they already have enough
to do for class. Humanities majors are also
less likely than other students to say they
would rather spend their time socializing
or spend it in other ways.
Responses in the open-ended question
    
Humanities 0.0 68.0 19.0 17.0 4.0
Social Science 4.8 80.7 36.2 32.4 2.9
Natural Science 2.3 74.6 38.2 37.0 4.6
Preprofessional 5.7 83.0 39.6 31.1 1.9
Fine Arts 1.6 69.8 36.5 27.0 1.6
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 483
are not surprising to anyone familiar with
college campuses. Among other activities,
students indicate that they prefer to work
out, spend time with friends, watch TV
and movies, participate in extracurricular
activities, and sleep. One local college bar
was listed as a priority several times. By
far, the most common response to our
open-ended question was that students
were busy with other activities and class-
work. Comments include:
“Not enough physical hours in the
day to do much else but go to class, do
homework and occasionally sleep.”
“NO TIME. Class reading is ridicu-
lous, so leisure reading gets put o.”
Aer homework it is hard to read
for fun.”
“I enjoy it but it just doesn’t make
the top of my priority list.”
“Don’t have much free time.”
“My mind needs a break!”
Judging by these comments, lack of
time emerges as the biggest barrier our
students face in reading for pleasure.
Barriers Reported by Librarians at
Other Institutions
We provided similar options for librarians
at other colleges and universities in terms
of perceived barriers to student recre-
ational reading (see gure 2). A majority
of respondents indicate that they feel stu-
dents believe they have too much reading
to do for class already and that they would
rather spend their free time in other ways,
such as socializing. Survey respondents
also highlight the additional issues they
perceive related to interest and access.
Nearly 40 percent of librarian survey
respondents report that they perceive that
students aren’t interested in reading for
pleasure, while one in ve believe that
students lack access to recreational read-
ing materials. Comments gleaned from
the open-ended question reveal several
interrelated themes: a concern about the
demands placed on student time, the gap
between what the students want to read
and what the library contains in its col-
lections, and issues of access:
“Students at the school where I
work are almost uniformly working full-
time and also going to school.”
“Our recreational reading collec-
tion is very small because we are limited
in shelf space.”
“It’s hard to tell if they’re not inter-
ested. Our budget is so limited that we
can’t buy too much rec. ction, and I get
the sense that if students can’t nd a book
they want at our library they don’t go to
the public library to nd it, even though
there’s a branch nearby and we suggest it
to them.”
“Lack of a visible, clearly-labeled
shelving area for recreational ction.”
“Language barriers—we have a
Not Interested Too Much Reading for
Would Rather Socialize Don't Have Access
Barriers to Reading on Other Campuses
484 College & Research Libraries September 2011
the need to spend funds on recreational
reading in an academic library.”
“Sadly, it is at the boom of my
to-do list. I think that is because it is not
directly related to any curriculum at my
Finally, for other respondents, it comes
down to a question of core mission. A few
respondents commented that promoting
leisure reading is not part of the mission
of academic libraries, exemplified by
this comment: “Is active promotion of
recreational reading really part of our
mission, and should those materials be
part of our permanent collection? Part
of me says no that our focus should
be more academic.” However, many
respondents believe that reading promo-
tion is an important function for academic
libraries, as typied by this comment:
“One of our six fundamental goals of the
library is facilitating the appreciation and
celebration of books. We view this not as
a separate program but as an integrated,
integral part of our students’ education.”
Addressing the Barriers
Gustavus students have many ideas of
how the library could help address bar-
riers to reading (see gure 3), while also
noting through their responses to open-
ended questions that they do not expect
the library to address all barriers. We
devised the list of options from sta sug-
high percentage of students who are ESL
and/or speak another language at home.”
“Our popular ction is somewhat
limited, and interled in the stacks with
the rest of the literature collection. Students
who want to nd something fun and escap-
ist to read oen have trouble locating it.”
Librarians identified a final barrier
through comments provided to a nal
open-ended question: Should academic
libraries play a role in promoting rec-
reational reading? Some respondents
indicated that purchasing recreational
reading violated both formal and infor-
mal collection development policies:
“We have many students asking for
popular material. Our collection policy
doesn’t provide for it and the reference
sta is seeking to change that policy.”
“I constantly have to defend my
sci- and fantasy purchases to folk who
think students should be reading more
intellectual material.”
Other respondents cite inherent barri-
ers along the lines of a lack of time, energy,
and funds, which are precious commodi-
ties within libraries:
“I believe this is an area that in
general academic libraries have not fo-
cused heavily upon, but I think more of
us would like to rethink this. There are
also some external constraints—limited
funding and justifying to the administra-
tion (and maybe a few classroom faculty)
35.9 39.2
14.7 17.7
12.8 9.6
Displays Separate
Book Lists Increase
Book Groups Incenves
How the Gustavus Library Can Address Barriers
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 485
gestions and activities we already do in
part. We also included programs we have
encountered at other libraries. Essentially,
we wanted to gather student-focused
data that we could put to practical use
in our library.
Students at Gustavus feel that recom-
mended book lists would be the most
helpful of our suggestions. In informal
conversations with students about
the results, several said they were not
surprised book lists ranked so highly,
hypothesizing that book lists would help
students nd books they could read on
breaks and vacations from school. Stu-
dents would also like more options for
recreational reading, with 40.5 percent
indicating they would like us to increase
the collection. To a lesser extent, students
also expressed interest in more displays
and having a separate room for leisure
reading. This probably connects to the
diculty students have in browsing for
leisure reading the way they can in a
bookstore or public library. Quite a few
students are unaware that the library
even has ction, since they are used to it
being shelved alphabetically by author
in a separate section. Although less than
one in ten indicated an interest in incen-
tives, students suggested several types of
incentives the library could oer, mainly
involving prizes for reading a certain
number of books or oering refreshments
such as pizza, ice cream—or beer.
Many open-ended responses dupli-
cated options in the survey question, such
as increasing the collection and creating
more displays. Students asked for ex-
tended loan periods over summers and
other holidays, as well as promoting the
fact that leisure reading can be requested
through Interlibrary Loan. Students had
suggestions for specic types of books to
add to the collection, such as more graph-
ic novels and magna. They would also like
to know what their classmates are read-
ing, and several respondents mentioned
having students write book reviews for
the campus newspaper. Several students
responded that they wanted more com-
fortable furniture in the library to create
an environment more suitable for curl-
ing up with a good book. Additionally,
several advocated for ction, nonction,
and poetry sections in an environment
more like a bookstore. Finally, several
comments indicate that the library can
only solve part of the problem; students
recognize that sometimes they simply
do not have the time to read for pleasure
during the school year:
“There’s not a whole lot the library
can do. It all has to do with the amount
of time students have.”
“Tell profs to lighten up on the
workload. Ha ha.”
“Lobby for less homework.”
“Help people realize they have
more time for it than they think.”
“People aren’t going to leisure read
when all their time is spent reading/writ-
ing for class.”
“I love to read and it kills me not
to be able to do it more oen (aka at all)
during the school year.”
We also asked librarians about the
kinds of reading promotion activities they
use (see gure 4).
Almost two-thirds of libraries (62.3%)
use displays to promote books; over half
(53.2%) also have a designated separate
area for their recreational reading collec-
tion. Close to one-third (29.8%) use signs
as well. Figure 4 also indicates that almost
all of libraries surveyed provide some
services related to leisure reading pro-
motion; only 7.5 percent of respondents
do no recreational reading promotion at
their libraries. Through an open-ended
question, librarian respondents also pro-
vided many examples of the other types
of promotion they use, such as providing
leased books, reading lists, reading con-
tests, activities related to National Library
Week, or sponsored readings from faculty
and students during Black History and
Women’s History Months. Almost one
in five collaborate with a local public
library in some manner, predominantly
through reciprocal borrowing and shared
486 College & Research Libraries September 2011
Voices of Writing Instructors
Though we did not have an opportunity
to conduct a large-scale study of faculty
perceptions, a brief online survey was
distributed in the spring of 2010 to writing
instructors who are members of WPA-L, a
listserv loosely aliated with the Council
of Writing Program Administrators that
has been an active electronic gathering
place for college composition teachers
since 1993. The survey questions can be
found in Appendix C.
The 48 respondents were divided
about whether reading is in steep decline
among young people, though a majority
disagreed or disagreed strongly with that
statement. What counted as reading was
an issue for respondents. “If by reading,
you mean reading ‘books’ I think this
is true,” one stated, adding, “if using a
broader denition of reading as engaging
some kind of visual text, then I disagree.”
One respondent stated, “it’s not in decline;
it’s just shiing to dierent kinds of texts,”
while others pointed to the popularity of
Harry Poer and the Twilight series. One
wrote, “I would say that I have noticed
that all of my students read recreationally,
and some are even passionate about their
recreational reading—but that passion
tends not to carry over into their academic
They were also divided about the no-
tion that students’ facility with reading
ction interfered with their ability to ap-
proach texts critically, though a majority
disagreed with that claim. “Reection
aer pleasure is wonderfully critical,”
one wrote. “It might require training to do
that—but that is what we are doing, right?
Opening up not only sites of inquiry, but
reective practices as well.” Another said,
“We know from a variety of research that
students tend to try to treat all texts as
narratives—‘story’ is a way they think
about reading as a whole.”
There was strong agreement with the
claim that reading ction, even when the
writing is weak by literary standards, can
be benecial. “No problem with reading
all kinds of junk,” one commented. “I
read thousands of terrible comic books
growing up and I don’t think it did ir-
reparable harm.”
Slightly over 40 percent of respon-
dents agreed with the statement that
reading practices fostered in popular
culture, such as Oprah’s Book Club or
book-related social networking sites
such as GoodReads, dier signicantly
from reading practices taught in college
classrooms. One said, “[T]his is basic
community-of-practice theory. People
who read in dierent activity systems,
for dierent purposes, and use texts as
tools in dierent ways, will of course
read in significantly different ways
from each other. It would be freakish if
13.5 14.6
Displays Separate
Book Exchange Signs Book Club Speaker Series
Reading Promoon at Other Libraries
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 487
they didn’t.” Another wrote, “[F]aculty
are quite skilled at making even the
most wonderful books deadly boring.
Another key point is the exibility of
the reader choosing what to read and
when to read.” One respondent pointed
out that social reading practices tend to
emphasize identication with characters
and with personal experience. “I think
these communities emphasize personal
connections to literature more than other
kinds of analysis—that ‘relatability’ that
students are always talking about. And
classroom studies move well beyond
the relationship of books to individual
personal experience.” However, nearly
as many respondents chose either “neu-
tral” or “don’t know” in response to this
question as agreed with the statement
and another 23 percent disagreed with it.
When it came to speculating about
barriers to reading for pleasure, faculty
in this limited survey were slightly more
likely than academic librarians to be-
lieve that students simply do not enjoy
reading, with 44 percent of respondents
agreeing or agreeing strongly with this
statement. Only a quarter disagreed with
this notion. Wanting to spend free time
on other things, or being too busy with
jobs and family responsibilities, were
perceived as signicant barriers by nearly
all respondents. In contrast, being busy
with assigned reading was perceived as a
barrier by only 60 percent of respondents.
Open-ended comments included the
following: “I think that we need to cre-
ate a space for encouraging students to
read recreationally within the academic
seing” and “[T]he kinds of assignments
students are required to do in curricula
designed for high stakes testing deserve
significant blame for the decline in
schooled reading and schooled reading
pleasure.” Things were not much dier-
ent now than in the past, according to
one respondent. “Many of my students
still love to read. In addition, I have many
non-traditional students who love read-
ing and discussing literature, something
they have never had the opportunity to
do. I also have students who don’t enjoy
reading. This has been true for the thirty
years I have been teaching.” Another
respondent was clearly frustrated by the
claim made in NEA reports and elsewhere
that reading is “at risk.”
This is geing so clichéd, I hate
to repeat it, but: the notion that
students are less textual might’ve
worked 10 or even 5 years ago but,
by sheer weight of how students
are actually spending their time,
can’t work anymore. Student out-of-
school production of text—which,
we forget, by denition necessitates
reading of text—is higher than it’s
ever been. Texting, chatting, so-
cial networking, and multimodal/
mashup writing are huge online-
time takers Reading, for the
people who worry about this, is
supposed to be done for its own sake.
Reading for communication or some
other end doesn’t, for these folks,
seem to count. And students “these
days” are actually using texts, not
just reading them so the hell-in-
a-handbasket crowd is in a froth. I
think we need a reimagining, from
them, of what counts as “reading.”
Students Write about Reading
Finally, we wanted to include in this study
some reections on reading by students
in their own words. In January 2009, 27
Gustavus students who were enrolled in
a month-long interim experience course
on Books and Culture43 wrote reectively
in response to a number of prompts about
their reading experiences. At the end
of the course, they used their writings
to compile a zine, comic, chapbook, or
digital project. Though clearly the stu-
dents who choose to take a course on this
subject are not representative of students
generally, their reections suggest that
the pleasure students take in reading
is closely associated with memories of
comfort and closeness and that they feel
what they choose to read voluntarily is an
488 College & Research Libraries September 2011
expression of who they are. The following
passages, drawn from various student
projects, provide insight into these aec-
tive dimensions of reading.
It was an ordinary place in our
house growing up, but it became
magical every night when my mom
would sink into the so cushions
with a book in her hands. My
younger sister and I would sit on
either side of her resting our heads
against her arms, peering at the
illustrations that transformed our
living room. My mom’s voice would
decode the squiggles on the page
into words, into a story. My rst
memory of books comes from this
spot in our living room.
My earliest memory of the library
was of story time at my hometown
public library. The head librarian’s
name was Mrs. Pease. She would sit
and read to us while we crowded
around her in a certain spot in the li-
brary to hear a wonderful story told
in her animated voice … I felt very
comforted by the readings she read
to us because that is what my family
members always did with me.
My mom and I would curl up on
her bed, and she would read [Lile
House on the Prairie] as Laura’s life
played out in my head. When she
was happy, having fun, I was smil-
ing without even realizing it. When
she was scared or in trouble, I was
bouncing around the bed in a sub-
conscious aempt to relieve the ten-
sion. A constant dialogue developed
between my mom and I:
Mom: Are you scared? Do you want
to stop?
Me: No!!! Keep going!
You know how you hear people talk
about how a certain song, a certain
food, perhaps a certain smell evokes
a memory as strong as if you are re-
living it at that very moment? Well,
that happens to me, too. Except it’s not
songs or smells that draw my unsus-
pecting mind through time. It’s books.
My bookshelf is not just a bookshelf.
It’s a time warp.
Though, when the course was taught,
the Kindle had recently been released and
was geing a lot of press aention, these
students were largely skeptical about elec-
tronic books. In writing about the future
of books, they oen referred to tactile
pleasures as well as the relaxation they
felt traditional forms of reading oered.
I like to research on the Internet, but
reading too much o a screen hurts
my eyes. I enjoy the feel, smell, and
texture of a book in my hands. It is
captivating and something you can
only experience with a book. I think
that the technology should just
enhance the book and the printed
copy will not die.
Computers are highly distracting.
I nd reading should be a way to
distract all of us from the “distract-
ing” part of our lives instead of
bringing more.
Though these students cannot be con-
sidered “typical,” their responses provide
support for the claim that reading is a
relaxing and pleasurable activity and that
the books they have chosen to read over
the years have become an essential com-
ponent of their sense of self. Given that
such a vast majority of their peers claim
to enjoy reading, these wrien responses
round out our understanding of why stu-
dents nd voluntary reading pleasurable.
We were quite surprised by the results
of our student survey. Though students
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 489
report they do not have much time to
engage in reading for pleasure during the
school year, they have strongly positive
feelings about reading, and that positive
feeling extends to a variety of reading
choices, including books, newspapers,
and magazines. While students may not
seek out pleasure reading during the
school year, it would seem worthwhile
to help students sustain their interest
when they do have more free time—dur-
ing school breaks and over the summer.
Students expressed an interest in having
help identifying books they might enjoy
so that when they do have time, they are
prepared with options. This suggests
that academic libraries may not need to
address students’ interest in recreational
reading through collection development,
but rather through some form of quick-
access reader’s advisory geared to college
students’ interests. We noted dierences
among various student populations in
terms of preferred reading materials,
suggesting that reader’s advisory work
should be targeted to specic groups of
students; for example, since natural sci-
ences students prefer science ction to a
greater degree than their colleagues, the
library might consider advertising science
ction collections more to these students.
Librarians (and a limited sample of
faculty who teach writing and litera-
ture) who were surveyed underestimate
students’ desire to read material of their
own choosing. This suggests that it may
be worthwhile to explore with faculty
leaders where cultivating reading as a
component of lifelong learning falls in the
institution’s mission and overall learning
outcomes. There are also implications for
information literacy programs, which
tend to focus on nding and evaluating
material that will be used for college as-
signments, an extrinsic motivator that
ceases with graduation. These skills are
not likely to be transferrable for nd-
ing fullling reading material based on
intrinsic motivation and not tied to infor-
mation needs per se. Are there ways that
academic libraries and the curriculum
in general could beer bridge the gulf
between schooled reading and the kind
of reading that Victor Nell calls “ludic”—
intense, absorbed, and transporting?44
At Gustavus, we have taken some
immediate steps as a result of these nd-
ings. In a response to students’ preference
for booklists and a request for sugges-
tions from their professors, we queried
classroom faculty about recommended
reading. Our rst round yielded over a
hundred recommendations from about a
dozen faculty members. A sta member
created bookmarks, which are displayed
in the library and include the name of the
faculty member who made the recom-
mendation. We plan on soliciting recom-
mendations once a semester and will use
faculty recommendations to create book
displays. We are also developing a Web
site that will contain all of the recommen-
dations, along with other suggestions for
recreational reading and directions for
nding recreational reading within our
Aer noting that students tend to read
more when they are on breaks or during
summer vacation, we tweaked our circu-
lation policies to allow for extended loan
periods, including a three-month loan
extension over summer for returning stu-
dents. We have advertised the extension
and several students have taken advan-
tage of the longer loan periods.
Last summer we also created a separate
ction section as part of a pilot project
that might ultimately lead us to rearrange
our entire Language and Literature (P)
section. Our goal was to create a ction
section reminiscent of a public library or
bookstore. Aer soliciting recommenda-
tions from library sta, we culled approxi-
mately 200 ction books representing a
variety of genres from our permanent
collection. We arranged the books alpha-
betically by author on a set of shelves in
a newly created reading room. The books
were tagged with green spine stickers,
and we changed the catalog records to
communicate their new location within
the building. We promoted the new col-
490 College & Research Libraries September 2011
lection through signs, blog postings, and
table tents in the cafeteria. Aer tracking
circulation paerns over the academic
year, we were initially dismayed to see
that the books did not y o the shelves
as fast as we hoped. Enough books cir-
culated, though, to encourage us to run
a second year of the pilot program. In the
coming year we will promote the display
to a greater degree and collect feedback
from students about the usefulness of
such an arrangement.
Recognizing that students enjoy read-
ing magazines, as evidenced by the study,
we have also turned our periodicals
collection into a circulating collection.
Students can check out periodicals for a
period of seven days; the policy boosts
student use of the collection, including
use of literary and popular magazines.
We rearranged some of the shelving in
our current periodicals section to create
cozy reading and study nooks, hoping
to increase serendipitous discovery of
reading material.
We also have begun oering a partial
credit book discussion course taught by
librarians. Students read a book in com-
mon, selected and announced before
registration, and also read books of their
own choosing, meeting weekly for group
discussion. We envision this new course
as an “intellectual activity” course, simi-
lar to the partial credit physical activity
courses oered at the college.45
All of these efforts will require as-
sessment to determine the extent of the
impact on college students’ recreational
reading practices. We envision our assess-
ment eorts will involve direct querying
of students, whether through surveys,
interviews, wrien reections, or focus
groups, to determine both the eective-
ness of specic activities as well as the
overall eort the library is undertaking to
promote recreational reading on campus.
Our surveys of students, academic li-
brarians, and a small number of college
writing instructors suggest that college
students enjoy reading for pleasure to a
far greater degree than previous reports
would indicate. High-prole studies that
have concluded reading is in decline dis-
count reading that is required for work
or school. Our survey suggests that this
limited denition of reading (that elimi-
nates all but voluntary reading and, in
the case of the 2004 NEA report, Reading
at Risk, focused solely on voluntary read-
ing of ction, plays, and poetry) may have
been profoundly misleading. Clearly,
our students feel the reading they do for
classes competes with voluntary reading,
but their enjoyment in reading and their
expressed desire to read material of their
own choosing indicates that reading is,
in fact, thriving.
Academic libraries provide academic
resources for students while they are
enrolled, but they also hope to promote
habits of lifelong learning. A substantial
body of reading research suggests that
the primary factor in reading procien-
cy is pleasure in the experience.46 If we
want our students to continue to read
aer college, we should look beyond
helping them succeed as students, but
also consider ways to help them develop
their personal reading tastes, learn eec-
tive ways to identify satisfying reading
material, and instill an expectation that
they can turn to libraries aer college
for their continued education and de-
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 491
Appendix A: Student Survey
1. Year in School
q First Year q Sophomore q Junior q Senior
2. Sex
q Male q Female
3. Major: (open ended)
4. Do you enjoy reading in general?
q Yes q No
5. Do you enjoy leisure reading?
q Yes q No
6. What do you like to read for leisure? (Check all that apply)
q Science Fiction
q Fantasy
q Romance
q Mystery
q Classics
q Fiction (please specify)
q Biography/Autobiography
q Nonction (please specify)
q Newspapers (please specify)
q Magazines (please specify)
q Internet (please specify)
7. How much time do you spend leisure reading per week during the school year?
q 0 hours
q Less than one hour
q More than one hour but less than two hours
q More than two hours but less than three hours
q More than three hours
8. If you do not leisure read or do not leisure read as much as you would like during
the school year, why not? Check all that apply.
q I don’t enjoy it.
q I already have enough reading to do for class
q I would rather socialize
q I would rather spend my free time in other ways (please specify)
q I don’t have access to leisure reading materials that I am interested in.
q Other (please specify)
9. How might the library beer encourage leisure reading at Gustavus? (Check all
that apply)
q More displays/browsing area
q Create a separate room devoted to leisure reading collections
q Create a book exchange program
q Collaborate more with the public library
492 College & Research Libraries September 2011
q Create popular book lists
q Expand popular book collections
q Oer more book groups
q Oer incentives (please specify)
q Other (please specify)
10. Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your leisure reading
habits or how the library can beer encourage leisure reading at Gustavus?
Appendix B: Librarian Survey
1. Are you a librarian at an academic institution?
q Yes q No
2. In your experience, do students in general come to the library looking for recreational
q Very frequently q Occasionally q Rarely q Never q Not sure
3. In your experience, what kind of recreational reading materials are students gener-
ally looking for? (Check all that apply)
q Science ction
q Fantasy
q Romance
q Mystery
q Classics
q General ction
q Autobiography/biography
q Other nonction
q Other (please specify)
4. In your experience, what are some of the barriers students encounter with recreational
reading? (Check all that apply)
q They feel they have too much reading to do for classes already.
q They aren’t interested in reading.
q They would rather spend their time in other ways (socializing, etc.)
q They don’t have access to recreational reading materials.
q Other (please specify)
5. In which of the following recreational reading promotion activities does your library
participate? (Check all that apply)
q Book clubs (coordinating or hosting)
q Book displays
q Book exchange program
q Separate browsing/popular book collection
q Signs (either promotional or directional)
q Speaker series
q None of the above
q Other (please specify)
6. Please select the type that best describes your institution:
q 2-year college q 4-year college q Master’s degree granting q Ph.D. degree granting
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 493
7. Please share any additional thoughts or comments you have about recreational
reading promotion in academic libraries.
Appendix C: Faculty Survey
This brief survey is intended to complement surveys of academic librarians and of
undergraduates enrolled at a Midwestern liberal arts college on the subject of under-
graduate students’ leisure reading preferences and habits. (Leisure reading includes
any form of reading material—books, magazine articles, web-based texts, etc.—that
students read voluntarily out of class.) Results will be incorporated into an article in
progress that will be submied to a journal of academic library research. The survey
is anonymous and you may exit at any time. Any questions or concerns may be ad-
dressed to Barbara Fister, one of the co-investigators.
The survey asks for responses to general statements. Though the general statement are
too reductionist to answer easily, please indicate the response closest to your feeling
(though it’s understood that you probably can’t simply agree or disagree with state-
ments that have no context and are overbroad; an optional comment box is available
aer each question if you would like to elaborate).
[Options were agree strongly, agree, neutral, disagree, disagree strongly, and don’t
know. Each question also oered space for comments.]
1. Reading is in steep decline, particularly among people under age 22.
2. One teacher47 reported his students found it easier to read ction than other kinds
of literary texts, but that their pleasure and facility “provided a serious obstacle to
the students’ ability to think critically about the works and their own thinking.” In
general, do you agree or disagree?
3. Reading popular ction for fun can be valuable for students, even if the writing is
weak by literary standards (such as novels by Dan Brown or Nicholas Sparks).
4. Reading practices fostered in popular culture (like Oprah’s Book Club, online
book-focused communities such as GoodReads) are signicantly dierent from
reading practices taught and developed in college classrooms.
5. The majority of young people today are easily distracted multitaskers who have
more diculty with sustained reading than did students of previous generations.
6. All things being equal, students prefer to read digital texts rather than printed
7. Major factors that inhibit undergraduates from reading for pleasure include the
They don’t enjoy reading
They are busy reading material assigned for classes
They prefer to spend their free time in other ways
They oen have jobs and/or family responsibilities, which means they have
lile time for leisure activities
They don’t have easy access to the kind of reading material they prefer
English language learners are a signicant portion of my students, and they
oen have diculty reading for any reason
8. Is there anything you’d like to add about college students and recreational read-
494 College & Research Libraries September 2011
1. National Endowment for the Arts, Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America
(Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2004). Available online at hp://www.nea.
gov/pub/readingatrisk.pdf [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
2. Ursula K. LeGuin, “Staying Awake: Notes on the Alleged Decline of Reading,” Harpers
(Feb. 28, 2008), 33–38.
3. National Endowment for the Arts, To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence
(Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2007), available online at hp://arts.endow.
gov/research/ToRead.pdf [Accessed 20 July, 2011]; Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation: How
the Digital Age Stupees Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under
30) (New York: Penguin, 2008).
4. Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,”
Atlantic Monthly (July/Aug. 2008), 56–83. Available online at
archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/. [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
5. An early example of this type is Sven Birkerts, The Gutenburg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in
an Electronic Age (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1994).
6. Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne (E.F.) McKechnie, and Paulee M. Rothbauer, Reading Mat-
ters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community (Westport, Conn.: Libraries
Unlimited, 2006).
7. Catherine Sheldrick Ross, “Finding without Seeking: What Readers Say about the Role of
Pleasure Reading as a Source of Information,” Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
13, no. 2 (June 2000): 72–80; Jessica Moyer, “Learning from Leisure Reading: A Study of Public
Library Patrons,” Reference and Users Services Quarterly 46, no. 4 (2007): 66–79; Richard Gerrig,
Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychology of Reading for Pleasure (Boulder, Colo.: Westview,
1998); Jessica E. Moyer, Research-Based Readers’ Advisory (Chicago: ALA, 2008).
8. Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp, “Reading for Pleasure and Creativity among College
Students,” College Student Journal 43, no. 4 (Dec. 2009): 1137–44.
9. Jude D. Gallik, “Do They Read for Pleasure? Recreational Reading Habits of College Stu-
dents,” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 42, no. 6 (Mar. 1999): 480–88.
10. Mark Edmundson, Why Read? (New York: Bloomsbury, 2004); Daniel R. Schwarz, In Defense
of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell: 2008).
11. Victor Nell, Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure (New Haven, Conn.: Yale
University Press, 1988).
12. Jerome McGann et al., “‘Reading Fiction/Teaching Fiction’: A Pedagogical Experiment,”
Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1, no. 1 (2001):
13. Elaine Showalter, Teaching Literature (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003).
14. Rita Felski, Uses of Literature (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2008), 76.
15. Lydia Burak, “Examining and Predicting College Students’ Reading Intentions and Behav-
iors: An Application of the Theory of Reasoned Action,” Reading Horizons 45, no. 2 (2004): 139–53.
16. R. Mark Hall, “The ‘Opracation’ of Literacy: Reading ‘Oprah’s Book Club,’” College Eng-
lish 65, no. 6 (July 2003): 646–67; Deborah Brandt, “Sponsors of Literacy,” College Composition and
Communication 49, no. 2 (May 1998): 165–85.
17. Jane Missner Barstow, “Reading in Groups: Women’s Clubs and College Literature Classes,”
Publishing Research Quarterly 18, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 3–17.
18. Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
19. Elizabeth Long, Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 2003).
20. Charlene Blackwood et al., “Pleasure Reading by College Students: Fact or Fiction?” (paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Lexington,
Ky., Nov. 13–15, 1991, ERIC ED344191).
21. Kouider Mokhtari, Carla A. Reichard, and Anne Gardner, “The Impact of Internet and
Television Use on the Reading Habits and Practices of College Students,” Journal of Adolescent &
Adult Literacy 52, no. 7 (Apr. 2009): 609–19.
22. Allison Hari and David A. Jolie, “Texts of Our Institutional Lives: Studying the ‘Reading
Transition’ from High School to College: What Are Our Students Reading and Why?” College
English 70, no. 6 (July 2008): 600.
23. Andrew Twiton, Common Reading Programs in Higher Education (Jan. 2007). Available online
at hp:// [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
24. Barbara Fister, One Book, One College: Common Reading Programs. Available online at hp://
Reading, Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure 495ster/onebook.html. [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
25. Julie Ellio, “Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion,” Reference & User
Services Quarterly 46, no. 3 (Spring 2007): 34–43.
26. Julie Ellio, “Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Academic Libraries,” Refer-
ence & User Services Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Summer 2009): 340–46.
27. Tom Kirk, “What Has Happened to Browsing Collections in Academic Libraries?” Library
Issues 30.5 (July 2011): 4.
28. Pauline Dewan, “Why Your Academic Library Needs a Popular Reading Collection Now
More than Ever,” College & Undergraduate Libraries 17, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 2010): 44-64.
29. Anne Salter and Judith Brook, Are We Becoming an Aliterate Society? The Demand for
Recreational Reading among Undergraduates at Two Universities,” College & Undergraduate
Libraries 14, no. 3 (Sept. 2007): 27–43.
30. Renee Bosman, John Glover, and Monique Prince. “Growing Adult Readers: Promoting
Leisure Reading in Academic Libraries,” Urban Library Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring 2008). Available
online at hp://
leisure-reading-in-academic-libraries. [Accessed 10 July 2011].
31. Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors,
General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day (New York: Paragon House,
32. Heidi Gauder, Joan Giglierano, and Christine H. Schramm, “Porch Reads: Encouraging
Recreational Reading Among College Students,” College & Undergraduate Libraries 14, no. 2 (June
2007): 1–24.
33. Bee Rathe and Lisa Blankenship, “Recreational Reading Collections in Academic Librar-
ies,” Collection Management 30, no. 2 (Apr. 2005): 73–85.
34. Rochelle Smith and Nancy J. Young, “Giving Pleasure Its Due: Collection Promotion and
Readers’ Advisory in Academic Libraries,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 34, no. 6 (Nov. 2008):
35. Mardi Mahay, “In Support of Reading: Reading Outreach Programs at Academic Librar-
ies,” Public Services Quarterly 5, no. 3 (July 2009): 163–73.
36. For more information about the study, see the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, Wabash
National Study of Liberal Arts Education. Available online at
overview/. [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
37. Information about this list can be found online at
sections/is/ilil.cfm. [Accessed 20 July, 2011]. It currently has over 4,000 members.
38. “Oberlin Group Members,” Oberlin Group. Available online at
members. [Accessed 20 July, 2011].
39. Michael W. Smith and Jerey D. Wilhelm, “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys”: Literacy in the
Lives of Young Men (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2002).
40. Majors at Gustavus are grouped into ve divisions: education (including preprofessional
majors such as nursing, education, and exercise science), ne arts, humanities, mathematics and
natural sciences, and social sciences (including economics and management). The list of majors
and the divisions they belong to can be found online at hps://
[Accessed 20 July, 2011].
41. This nding is consistent with previous studies of reading and gender such as Steven J.
Tepper’s “Fiction Reading in America: Explaining the Gender Gap,” Poetics 27, no. 4 (May 2000):
42. Though Gustavus is aliated with the Lutheran church (ELCA), librarians at nonaliated
institutions also reported that students expressed interest in Christian reading material.
43. The course syllabus and supporting materials can be found online at hp://booksandcul- [Accessed 20 July, 2011]. Students agreed to have their wrien responses
analyzed and quoted anonymously for research purposes.
44. Nell, Lost in a Book.
45. Course objectives and syllabus can be found at hp:// [Ac-
cessed 25 July 2011]
46. Ross et al., Reading Maers, 4.
47. Jerome McGann et al, “‘Reading Fiction/Teaching Fiction’: A Pedagogical Experiment,”
Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1.1 (2001):
... However, findings indicate that mode doesn't have a significant effect on motivation (Hsu & Wang, 2010). Even though in some studies a large percentage of students indicate they read for pleasure (Gilbert & Fister, 2011), it is not clear whether or not students are able to transfer their motivation for pleasure reading to a motivation for academic reading. Most certainly, a lack of reading self-determination can affect a reader's sense of reader identity with the most likely outcome as "I'm just not a good reader." ...
How a student perceives or identifies themselves as a reader is their reader identity. There is a dearth of research on college student reader identity. Using assignment artifacts as data, we conducted a narrative inquiry analysis seeking evidence of the students’ reading self-efficacy, reading self-determination, reading self-regulation, reading success, and reading competency as indicators of reader identity. We found the students expressed lower levels of reading self-efficacy, struggled with reading self-regulation, and lacked reading self-determination. We also found lower reading success levels and few reading competency indicators. Interpreting the results, we concluded that the students tended not to hold a reader identity and, therefore, typically do not embrace reading as part of their intrinsic desire to learn.
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... The holistic consideration of student literacy is aligned with a strong education equity mindset and therefore is critical to assess when examining the literacy mindset of faculty members. Regardless, there is evidence to suggest that many students who enter college have underdeveloped literacy skills (Falk-Ross, 2001), tend not to enjoy reading (Gilbert & Fister, 2011), but find benefit in efforts to increase their literacy skills (Howard et al., 2018). ...
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... Since the early 2000s a developing cluster of reading research that is situated in college and university environments explores the reading habits of students to understand the place of reading in their academic development, and to assess the value of leisure reading collections in academic libraries. Not surprisingly, time constraints-lack of time, not spending enough time, competition for time, timewasting online distractions-are perceived to be the primary barrier to voluntary reading among students (e.g., Cull, 2011;Foasberg, 2014;Gallik, 1999;Gilbert and Fister, 2011;Jollife and Harl, 2008;Mokhtari, Reichard and Gardner, 2009;Smale, 2019). ...
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore various concepts of time and temporal dimensions in the context of everyday reading experiences. Design/methodology/approach The study uses theoretical bricolage that puts existing reading research into conversation with theories of time and temporalities. Findings Three registers of time in reading are put forward: (1) libraries and books as places that readers return to again and again over time, (2) temporalized reading bodies and (3) everyday reading as a temporalized practice. Research limitations/implications Using lenses of time and temporalities, everyday reading is shown to be central to ways of being in time. Subjectives experiences of time in the context of reading expand the limited ways that time is presented in much Library and Information Science (LIS) reading research. Originality/value This paper offers a new conceptual framework for studies of reading and readers in LIS.
According to a 2019 study, almost half of American college students know that they need help for an emotional or mental health problem (Eisenburg & Lipson). Colleges themselves are aware of the growing problem and are continually looking for ways to help their students. Many colleges are providing mindfulness sessions to support well-being. Librarians are also cognizant of the foundational role of mental health and are incorporating mindfulness into their reference, instruction, spatial planning, and programming. Reading for pleasure is another non-pharmaceutical intervention that enhances psychological health, but not all academic librarians are convinced of its place in college libraries. This article introduces the concept of leisure reading as a mindfulness activity, one that has implications for academic reference librarians.
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Purpose: A review of texts in Persian language shows that most of the researches in the field of reading are focused on free or leisure reading and Iranian researchers have not studied academic reading. Perhaps one of the reasons for not conducting research in this field is the lack of appropriate tools. Therefore, this research was conducted in order to check the adequacy of the psychometric properties and validate the reading attitude questionnaire of Isakson et al (2016). Method: This research is designed with a quantitative approach in order to describe the psychometric characteristics of the attitude towards academic reading questionnaire. The statistical population of this research included the students of Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, who were studying in this university in the first half of the academic year of 1401-1400 SH. Using stratified sampling, 890 students were selected as samples. To validate this tool, apparent and content validity indices were measured. Confirmatory factor analysis was also utilized to evaluate the validity of the structure. Multi-value question-answer models were used to analyze the questionnaire items, and Cronbach's alpha was used to assess the reliability of this questionnaire. Findings: In the development of the research tool, a structure with three factors was used, whose factors are: academic reading behaviors, self-efficacy in academic reading, and evaluation for academic reading. The appearance validity of the questionnaire items was confirmed, and the content validity test showed a meaningful relationship between items and factors. The confirmatory factor analysis for these three factors showed that this model provides an appropriate structure to measure the attitude to academic reading and there exists a good fit between this proposed model and experimental data. The items of this questionnaire, in addition to having a good fit with the multi-valued answer question models, have the appropriate clean power at different levels of people's attitudes. Examination of the reliability coefficient in this questionnaire showed that both the individual factors and the questionnaire, in general, are at a desirable level of stability and reliability. Originality/value: There is no suitable tool in the Persian language that can properly assess the attitude towards academic reading. Therefore, a lack of appropriate tool in this area can be seen. This tool can be used in educational research to assess the causes of academic achievement or failure of students, as well as to study their study and learning styles. The most common use of this tool in tests is to measure reading ability at the beginning of reading improvement courses in schools and universities or other reading education intervention programs.
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This study was carried out to explore the pleasure reading practices and preferences of sample of Iraqi college students. The findings indicate that the majority of the participants read for pleasure weekly. It was also found that the participants preferred to read song lyrics, books of fiction, and articles posted on social media or websites over other types of reading texts .
Does a relationship exist between academic achievement and the time spent in recreational reading? A significant connection was found between achievement and the time these college students spent reading for pleasure during vacations.
Encouraging pleasure reading is not traditionally seen as the role of academic libraries. Those students who take time for reading, however, are better poised to succeed in college. Declining rates in reading among young people are cause for alarm, and many libraries at academic institutions are developing programs to promote this pastime. This article will examine statistics on the state of reading in America, outline two reading outreach initiatives that New Mexico State University has engaged in, and suggest strategies for effectively reaching out to the community to encourage reading.
This article provides an introduction to the recreational reading promotion tools at VCU Libraries, including a book review blog, book swap, and bulletin board, as well as the libraries' involvement with VCU's summer reading program and Richmond's citywide "One Community One Book" initiative. Policies and operating procedures will be examined, and these services will be discussed in the context of other libraries' offerings. We will also discuss why there is a need for these services– which have traditionally been the purview of the public library–on a college campus. Reading among American adults is in dramatic decline, and the academic library is a natural setting in which to combat this trend. The Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries' literacy outreach efforts serve to promote and strengthen lifelong learning and student engagement, two goals outlined in the VCU strategic plan.
During times of increased competition for budget, staff, and space in academic libraries, providing a recreational reading collection for pleasure and current awareness can be seen as difficult to justify. Recent studies, including Reading at Risk, raise concerns about the literary reading practices of college students. A year after the creation of a recreational reading collection at the University of Northern Colorado Libraries, a preliminary survey was conducted to gauge reaction of college students to the availability of recreational reading materials in their academic library.
This study examined the recreational reading attitudes, intentions, and behaviors of college students. The theory of reasoned action provided the framework for the investigation and prediction of the students' intentions and behaviors. Two hundred and one students completed questionnaires developed according to the guidelines for the construction of standard theory of reasoned action questionnaires. The instrument assessed students' attitudes, outcome beliefs, subjective norms, and normative beliefs, as well as intentions and behaviors regarding recreational reading. The constructs of the theory explained 35-38 percent of the variance in students' intentions. Attitudes toward recreational reading provided the strongest and most significant contributions.
Leisure reading in America has declined in the last 20 years, especially among 18 to 24 year olds. Studies show, however, that a positive relationship exists between college students' academic achievement and the time they spend in recreational reading. Reading for pleasure improves reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical development. Librarians at the Roesch Library, University of Dayton (OH), collaborated with colleagues in Residence Education on a yearlong pilot recreational reading program to address this cultural shift on a small scale. Porches, informal gathering places familiar to students, served as an appropriate theme for the program's goal of bringing people together to talk about books. This project found that with just a little bit of motivation and encouragement, students are willing to read for fun.