Is the book dead? Are Americans reading less than they once did? Has the ubiquity of the Facebook status update and the 140-character “tweet” doomed our ability to appreciate the long argument? In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) issued “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence," a report that received wide notice for its conclusions that “[there has been] a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans” and that “reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates.” For years after, the popular assumption was that reading was in decline, supplanted by television, video games, the Internet, streaming media, mobile phones, and/or Angry Birds. More recent studies, including the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits” (2012), paint a more complicated picture of the state of reading in America. From the Pew report, for example, we learn that 83% of Americans between the ages of 16-29 read a book in the past year, and that 47% “read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers.” In general, according to the Pew study, “Americans under age 30 are more likely than older adults to do reading of any sort (including books, magazines, journals, newspapers, and online content) for work or school, or to satisfy their own curiosity on a topic.” Another Pew report on “the rise of e-reading” (2012), tells us that the availability of digital content may actually increase the time that people spend reading, the variety of materials they read, and the likelihood that they will purchase books of their own. Clearly, these are interesting times for those of us committed to the promotion of literacy!
While individual studies may come to different conclusions regarding the state of literacy (and e-literacy) in America, there can be no doubt that reading is alive and well at DePaul. DePaul University is distinguished by the number of programs across campus encouraging reading inside and outside the classroom, and the library has always been a part of these programs. We know that DePaul faculty and students read extensively in their fields as part of their teaching, learning, and research, and we find evidence of that reading in standard reports of library use, including the 214,000 items circulated from the DePaul collection in 2011-12 and the 43,000 items requested by members of the DePaul community from our resource sharing partners through interlibrary loan. We also know that “e-reading” is alive and well at DePaul, where over 400,000 electronic journal articles were downloaded in 2011-12, and e-books were accessed almost 500,000 times. And this does not even take into account faculty and student use of freely-available resources such as the Directory of Open-Access Journals (8,000+ journals currently available), the Internet Archive (3,000,000+ texts currently available), or the HathiTrust (3,000,000+ texts available in the public domain, and over 10,000,000 volumes digitized).
Where DePaul goes “above and beyond,” however, is in its support for co-curricular, extra-curricular, and professional development reading programs, sponsored by units across campus and pursued with community partners including the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Schools, and others. We in the DePaul University Library have been grateful for the opportunity to design, or to collaborate with our faculty colleagues, on a number of programs that support “the habit of regular reading,” including the Unwind the Mind Popular Reading Collection, the One Book, One Chicago program, DePaul Reads Together, and the President’s Book Club. In this past Fall Quarter alone, DePaul librarians have contributed their expertise to programs on the future of publishing and the history of censorship, and have developed resource guides to allow participants in the President’s Book Club to learn more about the topics explored in the selected works. This quarter, we will be partnering with DePaul University Athletics to promote reading among Blue Demons fans.
Are you involved in a program on campus or as part of your community engagement efforts that promotes literacy or that might benefit from library involvement? Is there an opportunity for the library to highlight resources relevant to that program, or for librarians to lend their expertise to your efforts? In painting the picture of DePaul programs that promote “the habit of regular reading” and its benefits to popular literacy, critical thinking, or civic engagement, are there programs in addition to those noted above that we in the library should know about? In the coming months, we will be launching a “DePaul Reads” public relations program highlighting student and faculty commitment to reading, and we would love to hear more about the campus programs and partnerships that promote that commitment. If you have examples you would like to share, please send them to Brent Nunn, Library Outreach Coordinator, and look for the launch of the DePaul University Library’s “DePaul Reads” site later this year!