High school students have stopped reading for pleasure


Credit: Left: Kimberly Moss Right: Clara Moss

On the left, Mara Vander Beek reading “Pippi Longstocking” in 2012. On the right, Vander Beek reading her history textbook in 2020.

Clara Moss, Social Media Editor

During Book Fair week in elementary school, the halls would be abuzz with excitement as fifth graders showed each other the books they wanted and third graders pulled their parents around the shelves set up in the library. Grandparents could come and have lunch with their grandchildren before heading to the Book Fair, where students couldn’t wait to buy this “National Geographic” or the next “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Basically, Book Fair week was awesome.
Now, we’re in high school and the buzz surrounding reading has disappeared for many students.“Teens Today Spend More Time on Digital Media, Less Time Reading,” an article from the American Psychological Association, mentions that in the late 1970s, 60% of twelfth graders claimed they read a book or magazine almost every day, whereas in 2016 that number dropped to 16%.
However, students may still read, just through digital media instead of physical published material. Teenagers can publish their own writing online for other teens to read, and some people prefer reading online instead of using a physical book. Several other studies done on the subject report a contribution to this decline is the growing popularity of social media, but sophomore Mara Vander Beek disagrees.
Vander Beek said school reading assignments have contributed to her reduced reading of texts of her choice.
“Just cause now we’re forced to read so many books and … they’re not interesting to me,” Vanderbeek said.
Vander Beek used to read daily during elementary school, sometimes her parents reading to her or with her. When she was younger, Vander Beek enjoyed “The Hobbit,” the “Geronimo Stilton” series and “Ivy and Bean,” among other books. As she grew up, Vander Beek stopped reading, mentioning that she slowed down mostly in middle school.
“I only read when school forces me to,” Vander Beek said, “‘Of Mice and Men’ and the APUSH [Advanced Placement U.S. History] textbook.”
For a student who used to read a lot and enjoyed it, that’s a very short current reading list. Vander Beek said she used to be able to just sit down and read a book she enjoyed, but now she struggles to find those fun books.
“It’s hard, cause, like, we have to read the books we have to read,” Vander Beek said, thinking about how to get students engaged in reading again. She continued, “I think, like, the library’s really good, and it’s hard now cause we can’t go to the library.”
Loy Norrix librarian, John Kreider, agrees that students read less as they grow up. Kreider wasn’t a reader at all in high school himself, but eventually became a huge reader. Kreider mentioned how students become busier over time but also begin to enjoy reading less and less.
“I also think some of the joy of reading is lost in translation at some point for many students.” Kreider said about why students stop reading, “What I mean is, reading becomes something I have to do, so it might not be something I want to do in my free time.”
Kreider attempts to engage students in reading through visiting classes to talk about books, but he also gets to know people on an individual level, asking what they watch on Netflix or YouTube. From a student’s taste in movies, Kreider has recommended books that they enjoy.
Kreider consistently tries to keep the library well-stocked with relevant, engaging, and thought-provoking books.
“Come on down and I’ll help you find something to read,” Kreider directed at students, “And, hey, if you don’t like a book … bring it back and we’ll find something else!”
The physical space of the Loy Norrix library has been closed and the library services have been unavailable thus far, but Kreider mentioned that more information about requesting and picking up books is coming soon, so make sure to stay updated. The Loy Norrix library instagram is @lnlibrary.
“This new book ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’ by Leah Johnson is *fire emoji*,” Kreider suggested when asked about recommendations. “You Should See Me In A Crown” focuses on Liz Lighty, who attempts to win title of her school’s prom queen in order to get a scholarship and leave the city she grew up in.
Kreider also mentioned “Aurora Rising” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff for readers more interested in action and suspense. This book is the first in a series, and Kreider described it as similar to a bank heist movie — just set in outer space.
The KPL, Kalamazoo Public Library, was open for patrons before announcing on Friday, November 13 that they will be transitioning to curbside pickup, but there are still online resources available. During curbside pickup, library patrons can pick up their book holds from their vehicle or with walk-up service. KPL also hosts a large online catalog and library, where patrons can still access books. However, this online option isn’t the same as browsing the shelves once a week as Vander Beek mentioned or the individualistic recommendation-approach from Kreider.
Has school ruined reading for some students? Or is social media distracting them? Maybe to get students reading again, we need to promote more fun books for them. The library is a great way to do this, but in the new age of quarantine, access to books has lessened. Luckily, we can still use the library’s online resources to obtain more books, at least until we return to our Loy Norrix library in-person.