Head Librarian: Reading a changing art, not a lost one


Dear Chronicle,

I understand the main point of a newspaper headline is to inspire one to read the article. To this end it is true that a vigorous and iconoclastic statement is often most effective.

In the case of Allegra Tepper’s opinion piece, “Reading, a lost art,” I can’t help wishing I could insert a nice bold question mark at the end of the title.

It is impossible for any librarian to let this one slip by. In fact, to put it in the vernacular, ‘them’s fightin’ words’ for those of us in the bibliosphere.

It is easy to say that reading is declining and that books are relics of a past civilization, but I would challenge that view. The practice of reading is not dying; rather it is being transformed. In fact, if you think of ‘ingesting’ a book, in all the ways that can be done (on paper, electronically through your Kindle or laptop, online via the public library or audibly through your iPod), the varieties of ‘reading’ seem to be expanding daily.

There are many studies exploring this transformation. One need only go as far as Amazon’s sales figures for books available through the Kindle to see that the tradition of reading is quite healthy indeed.

However, the experience of reading in the general public was not actually the focus of the piece, the main thrust of which was ‘here we are, at Harvard-Westlake, widely regarded as premier academia, and yet, no one reads (emphasis mine).’

Here at Harvard-Westlake we all live in our own corners of campus. I live in the “library corner” of campus, and it turns out a number of Harvard-Westlake students visit my corner pretty often.

For instance, we’ve been doing a very brisk trade in Kurt Vonnegut titles, which is inspired in part by one book assigned for class reading. Student interest expanded beyond that one title, however, and we have had to get titles on inter-library loan to supply demand.

This is only for our own library circulation. Additionally, I know students have been getting their own books from many sources, including libraries and bookstores, as downloads and in paper.

I do not share Ms. Tepper’s fear that students will depart Harvard-Westlake as ‘academic clones’.

The best evidence for this is Ms. Tepper’s own declared intent of dusting the cobwebs off of her own (temporarily neglected) bookshelf. Her intellectual curiosity, fed in part by those assignments that kept her so busy, will not let her stay away for long.


Shannon Acedo
Head Librarian