Thursday, March 24, 2011
Get off my lawn! Those new kids and reading
Well, maybe the title exaggerates a little bit... I was reading the latest (April 2010) Cites and Insights by Walt Crawford. His "Perspective" piece this time is about reading. ("Writing about reading" is the title.) I admire both Walt's gathering of viewpoints and his analysis. I was moving along just fine, until I got to his discussion about a piece by Barbara Fister and the reading styles of the current college student crowd. Barbara's article is called "Reading: Outmoded or a la Mode?" It is in her column called "Peer to Peer" which appears as part of Library Journal's Academic Newswire. (It took me a moment or two to find it.) It is dated October 28, 2010. Both talk about the "myth" of non-readers and short attention spans among the "next generation." First of all, let me say that while there are probably some generational differences (and certainly frames of cultural references), like Walt, I am not a fan of overly broad generalizations. Barbara notes early on in her article: "You know how kids today don't like to read? Can't focus for more than five seconds? Are so intent on multitasking, visual stimulation, and interactivity that they turn their noses up at books?" She then goes on to later reveal "So my youthful and avid-reader colleague Julie Gilbert and I did something radical: we decided to ask students what they think. ... The student made arrangements to administer it anonymously in dozens of classes spread across the curriculum from first through senior year, collecting responses from a sample that is representative of our student body, and then we crunched the numbers. ... A whopping 93 percent of our students reported that enjoy reading for pleasure. All kinds of reading: books, magazines, newspapers. Reading on the Internet (though that scored lower than reading in print)." One of the most salient points (that I can even see in my personal life) is that it is sometimes hard to find the time to set aside to read. After more discussion and surveys, Barbara found out that "the problem is that students have piles of assigned reading to complete and very active social lives and more often than not a job as well as athletic and music commitments, not to mention that often significant relationships are developing—that's what you do when you are starting adulthood—and they say, with good reason, they simply don't have time." Towards the end she tells an anecdote about a recently retired English professor who now had the time to read for pleasure. That is echoed in Walt's comment "I'm reading more books now than I have in a long time..." I certainly see that in my life. I have maintained a reading log since sometime in the 1980s. (It was recommended by Joyce Sarricks to help with readers' advisory work.) If I look at various times when I read more and when I read fewer books, there are life events related to them. Even now, I listen to more books than I read because I can do that during the 3+ hours each day that I spend commuting. Bottom line...KTD (kids these days), do like to read, and do it when they have the time. Those of you who think otherwise: Get Off My Lawn!