Friday, April 3, 2009

Reading and (versus?) Getting information

Bradford pear blossoms

The relationship between reading and acquiring information has puzzled me for a long time. A bond between reading and overall achievement is often assumed, but reading for pleasure and reading for information are very different activities – particularly where the library is involved. Would it be correct to say that academic libraries generally support reading for information, and public libraries support reading for pleasure?

It seems some people are motivated to read mainly because reading teaches them how to do something -- that is, reading is the means to accomplish tasks (granted these tasks can be fairly abstract). But other people read for pleasure in addition to learning.

The first type of reading (goal-oriented) can be work, and I wonder if this is part of why tools such as google and YouTube were so suddenly accepted into the mainstream: They enable people to read less. Even those who enjoy reading can read more of what they want to and less of what they don't.

What does this mean for higher education? The library? Should the library be increasingly encouraging students to become part of the group of people who enjoy reading -- or should we be focusing on assisting with information needs, in the most convenient and accessible ways possible?

I think the answer is probably a combination of both, but the latter will be weighed more heavily. In fact, this is why librarians are so obsessed with searching: Many students don't want to do any more reading than they absolutely must. They do not want to linger, they do not want to browse, they expect to search and be taken to relevant results precisely on the topic they are researching. And when this mentality enables them to do their assignments successfully (more or less), what is the point in trying to force them to enjoy reading?

Reading can be just another tool to get from point A to B, and if reading is a tool, it's susceptible to being replaced when a better tool (images, audio, etc.) comes along. What if reading is becoming obsolete? Would that necessarily be a bad thing?

(More questions than answers here, I know, but this is all I've got this week.)

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