Data Obsessed

The weblog of an almost-librarian interested in special, corporate, and government librarianship, with occasional forays into technology and anime-related geekiness.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Risk Analysis

An interesting essay penned by Paul Collins of the Village Voice concerning the NEA's "Reading at Risk" study. Apparently less adults than ever are reading, which is something I can actually believe - reading is, for many students, not something that is fun but something that has to be done, and the emphasis by some parents, teachers, and even librarians on simply encouraging the reading of "good" books instead of just encouraging reading, period contributes to this, in my opinion.

This is not to say that the NEAs study was a particular good one. You see, the NEA, in all of its wisdom, only included the following as "counting" towards reading: novels, short stories, plays, or poetry in their leisure time (not for work or school). So those who like to read nonfiction in any of its forms, such as biography, history, or memoir are not included. Those who enjoy reading Japanese manga and comics in any of their myriad forms - not included. And those who are unable to find the free time to read for leisure because of the sheer amount of work they must accomplish as students are not included, even when their degree programs are in the reading-intensive areas of English and history.

There's something wrong with this picture.

Let's begin with a short case study of a graduate student in her mid-twenties...namely me. I have two jobs, one working in Computer Services at the University of Wisconsin Law Library and one working as a reference assistant at the University of Wisconsin Business Library. I take three or four courses a semester. I'm currently enrolled in a 120 hour practicum on Information Literacy.

My leisure reading tends to be limited to manga and short story collections; things I can digest quickly. Does that mean my reading is at risk? I don't think so.

I do think that the NEA needs to re-evaluate what constitutes reading, and what constitutes literature. Stories told in comic form can be extraordinarily complicated. Nonfiction can be as fascinating and as mind-bending as modern fiction. And works read for classes or for work can affect the reader just as much as those read for leisure. Not to mention that students aren't the only ones who have unbelievably tight schedules; reading for leisure can be a difficult thing to make time for.

It's time for the NEA to do what many librarians have already been forced into doing; it's time for them to re-evaluate what reading is. Only when that has been accomplished can they judge the true state of reading in the United States.

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