Recently, I visited my alma mater’s University Bookstore. Shockingly, I found the books had been moved into a corner, and the football paraphernalia stood where a plethora of books once welcomed learners and visitors in search of a well-stocked bookstore (in a town in which all the bookstores had closed). I became incensed and asked to see the manager. I was informed, upon inquiry, that business “consultants” had convinced University administrators to move the books into a corner and display, instead, jerseys and sports-related trinkets. I was informed that ALL major university bookstores now feature sports merchandise over books.
Once home, I reflected upon the impact of such decisions. First, we, as a society, are sending a message to enrolled students: business (money) and sports over deep learning and reflection; entertainment over hard work; shallow pastimes over social discussions; exploitation of talent over a balanced participation in sports activities (research reveals “football and men’s basketball players spend three times as many hours per week on athletics as they do on academics”).
How does this societal attitude and emphasis trickle down to literacy professionals? First and foremost, it places education, library, and reading programs within our university systems in the background, instead of the foreground. (Traditionally, many universities in our country were founded as “normal” or “teachers” colleges between 1880 and 1950). Why the shift? Education is about human development, not money and unhealthy competition, as is the case when sports-related programming is given unlimited power and financial support, a status never provided to academics (fiscal responsibility having always been monitored in academics).
Second, the failure to expect high academic growth from University student athletes trickles down to all students (and athletes do major in education, librarianship or reading).
Third, academic excellence as a virtue is diminished within society as a whole; anti-intellectualism takes hold, and brutish “survival” practices rule the day. Our young learners, wishing to fit in, gravitate toward that which society holds dear – shallowness and superfluous, superficial emphases (“winning,” “being number one,” avoidance of book-related activities and pursuits).
Fourth, our job of “getting the right book in the right hand” becomes exponentially harder; our efforts must be doubled and tripled, and, even, I dare say, quadrupled. Students must overcome the “entertainment” factor in order to adopt “life-long learning.”
Alarmingly, in our great democracy, which once valued literacy above most all other virtues, education, library, and reading professionals must now join as one to hire the best advocates and “consultants” known to man, fighting a societal trend which seeks to shove books into a corner!