In my last semester at IU, if I had a chance encounter with President Michael McRobbie on the sidewalk, I’d like to talk to him about my favorite pastime: reading.
One of the biggest issues facing students across the country is that we don’t read books.
Reading is out, podcasts are in.
Millennials don’t appreciate the smell of a freshly printed book, the snap of the spine, the accomplished feeling of finishing the last page.
Everything is in the cloud these days. It has our address books, our work emails, our family group messages and those embarrassing pictures you wish you hadn’t taken Friday night.
We keep all the essentials in our pocket. You know what doesn’t fit in your pocket? A 700-page Tolstoy novel.
Sure, there are e-books, Kindles and iPads, but our attention spans are as tiny as our cell phones.
There are thousands of distractions. We’re somehow able to keep up a 218-day Snapchat streak.
Despite this, we can’t sit down and read one chapter of a book.
I’m not even talking about leisure reading.
I’m talking about the multitude of textbooks and required readings we spend hundreds of dollars on at the beginning of the semester.
Half the time we don’t even crack the spine of said books. Many of us think going to class is enough.
Sure, the participation grade is a good incentive to do the readings and show up to class prepared, but many times kids are still able to participate and coast along through the class instead of actually immersing themselves in the texts.
It’s hard to fully immerse yourself in a class where you feel unmotivated to even read the front cover. We need to refocus ourselves in our love for learning.
I am very aware that I sound like a total nerd. Don’t even get me started on the library.
I got in touch with Andrew Asher, the assessment librarian for IU, and he informed me that in the 2015-16 fiscal year, IU Libraries had 334,684 items checked out.
That amounts to 917 books per day. Although that seems like a relatively normal number for our large campus, note that the statistic accounts for items in general, not physical books.
Asher couldn’t say how many of these items were books because the library doesn’t “catalog items this way — what constitutes a book is a complicated question for libraries.”
So it’s a fishy question to consider.
Regardless of how many books are checked out or read across campus in one day, when observing individuals on campus, it’s clear that the number is in steep decline.
On top of this, there are so many untapped resources we have on this campus.
Take the Lilly Library. Most people attending IU have no idea Lilly houses the largest collection of mechanical puzzles in the world.
Additionally, it has more than 7.5 million items that are readily available for your perusal in its manuscript collection.
I realize it’s difficult to encourage people to pick up a newspaper that requires reading, but I’ll keep trying.
I don’t know how else to incentivize the students to pick up a book and start the first chapter.
Reading opens up an entirely different world we can immerse ourselves in.
When I have a tough day at school or feel generally burnt out, it helps me to crack open a book and unwind for an hour or two.
More students need some sort of healty stress relief, and reading is an excellent outlet.
Plus, if my English teachers have taught me anything, being a better reader leads to being a better writer. It may even help your pesky English grade if you sit and read something completely uneducational.
So, McRobbie, if you’re reading, I wish that you’d encourage our students to engage with the past in order to learn about themselves in the present.
This article was originally published as a column for the Indiana Daily Student on 10 January 2017.