Here is a short story from the front line:
Very recently a customer came to the desk asking about the library services. After the usual pleasantries and a bit of conversation she revealed that she was a teacher who taught university level ESL students. During the course of our conversation she commented that she was having difficulty defining what a book is for her ESL students. With the dynamic and interactive e-formats available today this did not shock me initially. But as I probed further a shocking confession came forth: The trouble was not the vast array of formats but the fact that these students rarely read books outside of an academic context. Is this pamphlet a book?... The women I spoke with suggested that in her classes this was common. Reading really means one thing--textbooks. Nothing like relaxing with a good book on partial differential equations.
Being an obsessive non-fiction reader I can relate to some extent. I would be a hypocrite to suggest that there isn’t merit in finding enjoyment in complex topics like programming or physics. I’m sure that this is especially significant in collectivist societies where performance is highly valued and encouraged. No time to waste. But what worries me is if these patterns signify a kind of widespread myopic deprivation with broader implications. Reading can be a very eclectic and enriching experience that opens us up to the periphery of life. While reading for pleasure may not always pertain to what is right in front of us or help us earn a living, it can broaden our perspective and help us spot the metaphorical deer running onto the road. And it is becoming apparent that this awareness may be essential to counteract a fixated world where economic performance means building a vehicle to flatten whatever gets in the way.
It leaves me with many unanswerable questions, but there is bright spot. The teacher I spoke with makes it part of her class to introduce her students to the wider world of reading here at the Ottawa Public Library. The curiosity and aliveness she demonstrated surely must rub off on some of her students. And while the world language collections move and develop depending on the population, at any time anyone can find novels in many different languages throughout different branches of the Ottawa Public Library.