Reading in the Age of Continuous Partial Attention: Retail-Inspired Ideas for Academic Libraries

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Author: Pauline Dewan
Date: Spring 2019
From: Reference & User Services Quarterly(Vol. 58, Issue 3)
Publisher: American Library Association
Document Type: Report
Length: 9,161 words
Lexile Measure: 1700L

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Reading is an essential skill that improves with practice, not just when we are learning to read but as adults. College students may be out of the habit of reading except for required texts. Deep reading skills may be eroded by habits of interrupted and partial attention. This article explores ways to promote reading among college students through the implementation of best practices from retail and marketing.

As students increasingly question the value, expense, and practicality of higher education, and as enrollment and retention rates continue to drop, colleges and universities are more concerned than ever with bolstering student success. In fact, the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee, in its list of top ten trends in academic libraries, observes that "student success continues to be an important focus for higher education institutions, where the trend towards performance-based funding and accreditation criteria includes an emphasis on learning outcomes, retention, and matriculation." (1) Universities and colleges are developing a variety of ways to prove their worth to a skeptical public. A new emphasis on skills such as time management, study, research, writing, and critical thinking helps students improve their academic record. Basic reading is a skill that students learn in the primary grades, but being able to decode words is not the same as being skilled at reading. Because--as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has found--"success in reading provides the foundation for achievement in other subject areas," the ability to read with proficiency and ease is a skill that is especially important. (2) The large US study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts concluded that "reading for pleasure correlates strongly with academic achievement." (3) Research has also shown that reading fosters cognitive development by promoting higher-order reasoning, critical thinking, comprehension, writing skills, vocabulary, and grammatical development. (4) Simply put, if a student is not a skilled reader, her likelihood of succeeding academically is reduced. Colleges should be producing not just lifelong learners but also lifelong readers--people who find fulfilment, enjoyment, inspiration, and enlightenment in the activity of reading. This article explores barriers to reading fluency and ways that academic librarians can support student reading. The first part of the paper examines students' waning enthusiasm for books in an increasingly digital world. The second part discusses ways that librarians can inspire students to read--solutions inspired by research on consumer behavior and visual merchandising. Although academic libraries can follow the lead of retailers and attract readers by creating both a robust online presence and innovative services and programs, these ideas have been well covered in the literature. (5) This article looks specifically at ways librarians can lure readers by focusing on the library building itself--its layout and arrangement of contents.

Most college students possess basic reading skills. But while some are fluent readers who find the activity effortless and enjoyable, others find it a chore. In her study of avid readers, Catherine Ross observes, "Nonbook readers find any kind of reading hard work and view book reading in particular...

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