Don’t Call It a Comeback: Popular Reading Collections in Academic Libraries

Elizabeth Brookbank, Anne-Marie Davis, Lydia Harlan


Despite the persisting notion that recreational reading does not have a place in the academic mission of college and university libraries, these libraries have a long history of providing pleasure reading for their patrons. During the latter half of the twentieth century, the idea of academic libraries meeting the recreational reading needs of students seems to have fallen out of favor, but a literature review of that time period shows that the collections themselves still existed. Discussion of—and justifications for—these collections, however, has enjoyed a resurgence in the library literature over the past decade. Given this renewed interest, this study seeks to assess just how common these collections are in US academic libraries today, and whether or not they are, in fact, enjoying a comeback from previous decades. This study surveyed the thirty-nine academic libraries that make up the Orbis Cascade Alliance in the Pacific Northwest, a diverse group of libraries in terms of size, type, budget, and student populations. The results of the survey show that a majority of libraries have a recreational collection and that these collections are valued by patrons and librarians alike. Recommendations are made for shifting the perspective on popular reading collections and their place in academic libraries, as well as for how to study them in the future.

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