Thursday, January 25, 2007

Does anyone read books anymore?

Via The Chronicle, I found this editorial from a librarian. In it, he suggests that librarians are moving away from dealing with books and actual reading and focusing on information literacy, meaning navigating information in online databases and on the web. He calls this teaching "computer skills":
The buzzword in the trade is "information literacy," a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books.
This is the common framing of technology vs. books, as if understanding and appreciating technology naturally precludes a love of reading. In the eyes of people like Mr. Washington, he's in a zero-sum game where books and computers can't *really* live side by side. It's why someone in my position is looked at with skepticism because I'm one of those people who wants to take away books and make everyone read everything on a computer or better yet, watch the YouTube version. This is all completely untrue. I certainly don't think books are going anywhere. I'm an avid reader myself. My whole life I've been an avid reader and a technophile. However, I will say that you can't ignore what's going on with technology. More and more people, especially high schoolers and college students, are getting their information on the web. Librarians are uniquely qualified to help students sort through all that information. If they just direct students to books, then students will be missing out on a lot of information, information that may very well be more relevant and more recent. Is it really a librarian's job to inculcate a love of reading in students? Isn't that a parent's job? Or maybe an English teacher along the way? And is it the end of the world if someone doesn't want to read Bleak House? I've known lots of people who don't read "literature," including most of the people in my family. They still read. Mostly they read mysteries and popular fiction, magazines and a daily newspaper. Yes, the NEA report says that reading is declining, especially among the 18-24 crowd. Many people in this group are required to read for school, much more than I remember being required to read when I was in college. I also remember not having time to read for pleasure in either college or grad school. I'd like to see another study about reading online. Do people now read more online? And maybe this whole thing isn't a problem with technology, but a problem with our society generally not encouraging leisure time. I'm willing to join the fight to encourage more reading when librarians (and I know many who already do) will admit that navigating and being critical of web-based information is equally important.