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A Novel Education: Leisure reading in a ten week term

It’s no shock that Carls live an unmatchably busy life filled with hustle and bustle. Students are constantly moving from class to study spot and back again. With hundreds of pages of class reading per week, essays, lab reports, and presentations, Carls barely find time to eat and sleep. But in living so, often some of the finest pleasures of life are lost – taking time for long walks, simple quiet alone-time, bathing, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the timeless sensation cracking open a good book to read for fun.

While it might seem like a bit of a stretch–trying to convince your 21st-century everyman that once upon a time, people actually read for pleasure–one assumes that this habit is not altogether unfamiliar to the Carls of the present day.

But–is it? This is a serious question, and one that needs to be asked. Does anyone on this campus read for fun? Do people have the time? The will? There are plenty of reasons to assume a universal ‘no.’ Especially since Minnesota has Netflix, and as so, perhaps the worthwility of the en- tire institution of reading can be called into question.

Well, we do have a library, which says something about how this community values books. What can the knowledge of the library reveal about the reading habits of Carls? Jason Hallen, Circulation Supervisor at the Libe, had plenty of very interesting insights to share about the reading habits of this community.

There exists plenty of raw data on circulation figures. Records can clearly display what has been checked out, when, by whom, and for how long. But often, these numbers can’t really say much about intent. So when analysing book usage, it’s very difficult to determine whether people are checking things out for work or play.

In some cases, the judgement is clear: the single most frequently used item in the entire library is a Spanish-English dictionary. The most popular piece of digital media is the DVD of Up. But most of the time, the answers are not so obvious.

The Libe does have plenty of resources for any and all sorts of Carleton bookworm. The Athenaeum features a huge collection of popular reading books, marked with red bands. These range in genre, author, and subject and include many current popular literary works.

There’s a similarly huge selection of contemporary magazines available for checkout in the Rookery–although notably, I myself have never actually read a magazine, and Hallen also admits to having never really read one. I’m not sure if many people still do.

The Libe’s circulation figures show that magazine consumption is on the decline. But the popular resources they offer do not end there. Another lesser-known feature of the Rookery, is the Ron Hubbs collection–several full shelves of books which spend their lives being checked out on the honor system.

Anyone is allowed, at any time, to come by and take a Hubbs book out, without formally checking it out of the LIbe. Books are to be brought back whenever they’re finished. For obvious reasons, their circulation and rates of consumption are very difficult to estimate, but some students have very enthusiastic attitudes towards the Hubbs collection. Based on conversations with many students, this seems to be a resource that people really enjoy taking advantage of.

Near the entrance of the Libe nowadays rests a table covered in books written by Minnesota authors. This is their current feature. At this table, standing just before the entrance to the Rookery, are kept at varying times all styles of might-be-popular book. “We’re always thinking of new ways to spotlight our collection,” Hallen said.

Do Carls often look beyond the campus in search of books? I have found several books I need only available at St. Olaf, and set out to investigate whether this is a trend. St Olaf has three total libraries, but they collectively contain about the same number of books as does Gould Library at Carleton.

Proportionally speaking, a much greater number of texts held by St. Olaf concern theology and biblical studies, and their body of Norwegian-language literature is, unsurprisingly, significantly larger than is Carleton’s. Searching for Norwegian-language material on Bridge2 yields the following figures: 14,708 results are returned, with 14,607 of them being collectively from ‘St. Olaf Libraries.’

A large number of Carls are also said to hold Northfield Public Library cards. While the Northfield Public Library is significantly smaller than our own, it contains very different kinds of material, and Carleton bookworms very well might frequent it for the majority of their pleasure reading. But again, raw library data alone cannot answer the question of whether anyone actually has the time or will to read for fun.

Clearly, the best sources for answers to this question are Carls themselves. So to find more revealing answers, I went around the library asking people about the last time they read a book for fun.

As it turns out, people actually do read, and the correlations I’ve found from the believable responses received (as there’s always the chance that people, when put on the spot, will make things up to look impressive) are interesting.

Several freshmen claimed they just didn’t have the time to read anything nowadays, and had been too busy since break to even think about pleasure reading. But miraculously, it seems, juniors and seniors mysteriously do manage to find more time to read for fun. There appears to be a general correlation between age and interest in pleasure reading, with upperclassmen appreciating our literary resources significantly more than the average freshman.

“One of the first pieces of advice I got from the upperclassmen on my floor when I arrived,” says Sasha Mayn ’18, “was that I should forget about pleasure reading. There just wouldn’t be time, they said. And for a while, I thought that was absolutely right. But then I realized that for whatever makes one’s heart sing, one can always find time.”

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