By Brad Snelling, College of St. Scholastica

In late March, I used an ALS scholarship to help attend the
biannual conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries  (ACRL) in Portland, Oregon. I would like to
report on a session entitled “Sustaining Curiosity: Programs for Developing
Lifelong Readers” which, for me, was the highlight of the conference. I thought
it would be worth sharing here since the value of lifelong reading and learning
is common to all types of libraries throughout the Arrowhead Library System.
While this session offered useful suggestions and
descriptions of reading programs for academic libraries (e.g., popular reading
collections, dorm libraries, and book clubs), the most memorable part of the
program was a summary of literature and research suggesting that the
distraction of technology–especially through our current “phone culture”–has
become a serious threat to the attention required for reading book-length
texts.
The presenter, Pauline Dewan (Wilfrid Laurier University,
Ontario), asserted that “if we want our students to become avid readers, we
must recognize that they need to experience the joy of reading.” To experience
this joy, one must become an accomplished reader. But this does not happen by
chance. Rather, it is an acquired skill which is developed over time and
through practice. As Dewan notes, “the more we read, the better we become at
it.”
Dewan referred to research by Wolf and Barzillai which
demonstrates how reading involves both hemispheres of the brain. Reading also
requires time, focused attention, and an active imagination. Unfortunately,
these various requirements often serve as barriers to aspiring readers in our
current culture. Dewan remarked: “Today’s students have grown up in a culture
of distraction that reduces their ability to focus, fragments the reading
experience, and makes them less patient with book-length material.”
The most interesting portion of this presentation focused on
how screen reading (on smart phones, computers and other electronic devices)
can create poor habits which are not conducive to reading longer texts. The
presenter noted that our current generation of youth was raised on screen
reading and that this has had an impact on all of their reading, not just on
electronic devices. Dewan noted that reading online is typically done through
skimming text. She cited author Steven Krug who describes in his book, Don’t Make Me Think Revisited, how many
readers of web pages will only glance at a page without looking at significant
portions of the text. There is a tendency to jump from link to link, another
activity which interrupts linear thinking. One’s reading is even more
fragmented by the layout of pages which typically breaks material into numerous
sections with scrolling text, sidebars, multimedia and advertisements. Screen
reading “chips away” at our ability to focus on one thing at a time. Our
continual exposure to snippet-length texts can make book-length reading a
daunting task.
Towards the end of her discussion, Dewan discussed Nicholas
Carr’s argument that the surface-skimming involved in screen reading
“discourages deep thinking and sustained reflection.” She concluded by turning
to an article by Durant & Horava which emphasizes the symbiotic
relationship between reading and writing. These authors conclude that it is
unlikely that our students will write well if they do not read well.
Dewan and her fellow presenters have co-authored an
excellent book, The Slow Book Revolution:
Creating a New Culture of Reading on College Campuses and Beyond
, which
discusses reading programs for academic libraries. Below, I am including a full
citation for this work along with the other sources noted in this report:
Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York:
W.W. Wilson, 2011.
Durant, D., and T. Horava. “The Future of Reading and
Academic Libraries.” Portal: Libraries
and the Academy,
15.1 (2015): 5-27.
The Slow Book
Revolution: Creating a New Culture of Reading on College Campuses and
Beyond. 
Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries
Unlimited, 2014.
Krug, Steve.  Don’t Make Me Think Revisited: A Common
Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability.
San Francisco, CA: New Riders,
2014.
Wolf, Maryanne, and Mirit Barzillai. “The Importance of Deep
Reading.” Educational Literacy, 66.6
(2009): 32-37.

I would like to thank
the Arrowhead Library System for its kind support of my attendance at this
conference.