Leisure Reading in Academic Libraries

Article Summary #2 – LS 534


AKA Reading Summary #2

Erin M. Watson completed a study through interviews of staff from seven different academic libraries, locations ranging from Canada to the US to the UK.  Watson specifically sought out health science or science libraries, which provided their students a “leisure reading” area, in order to understand what the motivations were for investing in these resources, as well as how they functioned compared to the rest of the collection.  The seven libraries selected were: the Ehrman Medical Library (New York University) in New York City, the Galter Health Sciences Library (Northwestern University) in Chicago, Bibliotheque Rockefeller (Universite Claude Bernard Lyon 1) located in France, the Helsinki University Library in Finland, the Walton Library (Newcastle University) in England, Bibliotheque de la Doua (also at the Universite Claude Bernard Lyon 1), and the Scott Memorial Library (Thomas Jefferson University) in Philadelphia.

Watson’s article outlines the basics for the various collections, essentially providing the “who, what, when, where and how” of each.  In general, these collections were shelved separately from the library’s general collections, and for six of the seven libraries there was comfortable seating provided for student use in the areas where the readings were shelved.  The funding for the collections frequently were obtained through donations from stakeholders, each finding significant amounts of support among faculty on campus. A major factor, which Watson explains was a motive for her selection of the specific genres of academic libraries, is that students within these two fields are infamous for being overwhelmed and bogged down by labs, classes and coursework.  Typically, these students are much busier than students studying other areas, or so it often seems.  So, the leisure reading areas provide students the opportunity to read items for pleasure, offering fiction books, magazines, newspapers, and other interesting non fiction resources.

The role, which library staff members identified, the reading areas play support Watson’s theory that students in these fields needing a place to relax and unwind.  Within her interviews, she identifies the reasoning each library decided to create a special collection, specifically for leisure reading.  The three main reasons given by the seven libraries were, to “inspire empathy/cultural sensitivity”, “to provide access to extracurricular reading materials”, and finally to “give students a break from their studies”.  A fourth reason, offered by the staff interviewed at the Bibliotheque de la Doua, was to “help students to keep abreast of current events”.   No mention of supporting the curriculum, or to meet accreditation standards, varying greatly from the basics we are learning in our collection development lectures for LS 534, currently.  Although, most of these reasons are very similar to those which motivate leisure reading areas within other varieties of libraries, outside of the health sciences and/or sciences realms.  Watson did identify a major difference, though – the ideal of providing readings in order for students to inspire change within their personal or professional behavior.

Watson’s article offered a unique perspective on collection development, supporting the idea that an academic library can (and should) be more than just a place to study and research, but also a safe haven to disconnect and relax.




Watson, E. M. (2014). Leisure reading collections in academic health sciences and science libraries: results of visits to seven libraries. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 31(1), 20-31. doi:10.1111/hir.12042


4 thoughts on “Leisure Reading in Academic Libraries

  1. Marcia,
    This was a great post! I think the idea of a leisure space is applicable to all academic library users and offers so much potential for creating a more welcoming environment for college students in the academic library, which can be intimidating and sterile. I’ll be keeping this idea in mind when I take the Academic Libraries management class this summer.
    Catherine James


  2. The library where I work now has little reading areas set up like this as soon as you come in, but also along the windows. It seems to be a good place for the engineering students to just unplug for a bit before diving right back into their homework on the computers. It’s definitely something that is nice and practical. The leisure reading materials are actually mostly popular magazines.

    Liked by 1 person

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