In the age of technology and social media, how could a book possibly keep a student’s attention? Have books lost their appeal in favor of movies and TV shows? Despite what many may think, in the face of all these attention-grabbing media, many students still choose to read.
While students may not physically be checking books out of libraries like they used to, but they are still reading other forms of text.
“There’s a significant drop in checking out books, but I don’t know if that means they’re not reading,” Head of Information Services Ms. Lisa Snyder said. “From my end, it looks like there is, but you also have so much that’s [digital].”
Although there aren’t many students checking out books, Ms. Snyder believes that, because students have so many resources available to us such as Kindles and e-books, students do continue to read.
Previously, students who enjoyed reading could join Reading Olympics, a club where students are given books to read and compete later in the year to answer questions from each book. However, recently, the club has dwindled.
“We started Reading Olympics four years ago in the upper school,” Ms. Snyder said. “Jeffrey Yang [’22] came up from the middle school and wanted to start a team, so the first year we had face-to-face competitions. But since the pandemic the competitions haven’t been face to face, and they’re not really as fun. It’s hard work, and the fun part was the competition at the school. So we didn’t participate this year,” Ms. Snyder said.
While interest amongst upper school students is small, the club is popular in other divisions.
“We participate in the lower and the middle school. We had forty kids on the team in the lower school, and I think this year we had nine in the middle school,” Ms. Snyder said.
While hope isn’t lost yet on students’ passion for reading, social media is surely taking some of it away. With short-form content taking over screens across the world, students have gravitated to similarly-paced literature.
“Right now, manga and graphic novels [are our most popular genres], I think because it’s a quicker read, you know, and you can get through a full story,” Ms. Snyder said.
Fourth Former Avery Jones, an avid reader of manga and fantasy, enjoys these genres for their imaginative value.
“I just think it’s because I like magic a lot,” Jones said. “Fiction is so wonderful because you can create whatever world you want, so I don’t really like books that build off of the planet we already live on.”
Ms. Snyder has also noticed a trend of students becoming more interested in literature as they near college.
“But also we get seniors, as they get a little bit older, they start to become more interested in sort of the literature of the adult,” Ms. Snyder said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I want to read Outliers,’ or ‘I want to read something like The World is Flat, some kind of book like that.’ Some kids compile their own college reading lists, like this is what I want to read before I go to school. We have some really strong readers, but we also have people who probably don’t crack a book, who, hopefully, are reading [on their devices].”
English teachers like Dr. Micah Del Rosario have also noticed a decreasing interest in independent reading from students.
“I have had in my time here, which is three years, not that long as far as Haverford teachers go, two students who have asked me for reading recommendations,” Dr. Del Rosario said. “Both of them took those recommendations, read the books, and I was able to chat with him afterwards. It was great, but that’s two students. So generally speaking, I would say not that many.”
Even with a long list of books Dr. Del Rosario is able to recommend, not many students in his classes are familiar with any of them.
“I would say for instance, like with Heart of Darkness, I had one sophomore saying that he was familiar with that book and read it. I think that’s fair, because I think the question of ‘Do they recognize the book when I mentioned it?’ is like, well, are we talking about? This is kind of a facetious example, but it’s like Twilight versus Crime and Punishment. Of course, there aren’t many eighth graders who go around reading Joseph Conrad,” Dr. Del Rosario said.
He also said that the quality of writing between those who do and do not read is apparent. He said that it’s a “foundational truth,” and “basic reason” as to why you should read. He continued to say, however, that it doesn’t seem like there is much reading being done if not for a class.
“My perception is that there’s not much recreational reading that goes on,” Dr. Del Rosario said. “I don’t know that I would really say that that’s a Haverford thing so much as a Gen Z thing, just growing up in a world that’s so technology heavy.”