Study: Reading Isn't Dead for College Students

Students say they enjoy leisure reading, but there is no time in their busy schedules.

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Tristan Richards, a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, is an avid reader. Listing Henry David Thoreau as one of her favorite authors and Harry Potter as one of her favorite literary series, Richards says she enjoys reading when she has the time. Unfortunately for the junior, who is a double major in Spanish and communication studies, balancing academics, an internship, and a social life has complicated her schedule.

"I go to class in the morning and afternoon, and at night I have meetings," Richards says. "I just feel like I'm always hopping from meeting to meeting, class to class, and appointment to appointment. And by the time I actually get to sit down and do stuff, it's nighttime and I have to do homework."

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According to a recent Gustavus survey, Richards is not the only student who would like to have more time for leisure reading. The study, which included responses from 717 college students, notes that 93 percent of respondents enjoy reading for pleasure. But, according to Julie Gilbert and Barbara Fister—librarians at Gustavus and the authors of the study—students lack the free time to read.

"The lack of time, again and again, came up as the reason [students] don't get to read as much as they want to, and that was kind of sad," Gilbert notes. "But, it's understandable because we see how overbooked they are."

Richards, who estimates she spends 50 hours each week engaged with academics or her internship, says that books are a "nice break from the world," but finding time to read material for fun is tough.

"I just don't carry a book around [with] me anymore because I should be using my time for school," she says. "And personally, when I have a ton of pages to read for class, I'm really sick of looking at words by the end of it."

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Although the burden academics place on a student's time is a major factor in whether he or she voluntarily reads outside of the classroom—77 percent of students reported having too much reading for class as a reason for not reading for fun—some academic librarians feel they may have not effectively connected with students.

"I know public libraries are very involved in helping people discover books [but] academic librarians haven't done that very much," Gustavus librarian Fister notes. "We're not actually as tuned in to that as pubic librarians are, but at least we recognize this as an issue for students."

One way university libraries can highlight leisure reading materials is by making them more visible, Richards notes. "Honestly, a lot of people don't realize that the academic libraries have leisure reading books," she says.

At the University of Florida, librarians have strategically placed books at the entrance of libraries so that students can "walk by and see and be intrigued by things," says Judith Russell, the dean of university libraries at the institution.

"We see a fair bit of material selected from those [shelves]," Russell acknowledges. "I imagine most of the picking off the new book shelf is the serendipity factor of just walking by and something catching their eye."

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While roughly 36 percent of students in the study noted that book displays help address some of the barriers to leisure reading—such as the lack of access to certain materials or the ability to find something quickly—another 60 percent stated that book lists or recommendations from other students or faculty could make it easier. At Gustavus, librarian Gilbert says that students should be connecting with other students to find reading materials.

"I think it's important to get students involved in recommending things to other students," she notes. "A lot of it is about helping them discover what is out there [and] they know much better than we do at how to reach other students."

The librarians at Gustavus have tapped into the student body by garnering feedback on designs for posters that promote reading and book recommendations. Creating this conversation between the library and the students is a "good idea" for the university, Richards notes.