Have we become such a post-literate society that it even extends to how we use libraries?
I just read another tiresome puff piece about how the library isn’t obsolete.
This one especially highlights how millennials (people ages 18-35) visit the library more than any other generation.
But do they read? The article gives only passing notice to books. I don’t find “read” or related words anywhere in the article.
I call it tiresome, because it depicts libraries doing what they have always done as if they’re doing something new to cater to millennials. At least it doesn’t breathlessly proclaim that libraries are more than books, as do so many similar articles.
But it quotes a 20-something librarian as saying that a library is “not only an intellectual place, but also a creative place to have fun and relax.” It was when I was her age, too. Libraries have added community meeting space and stopped shushing people since then, but that evolution began before she was born.
The author appears to think it’s something new, and perhaps more important than the library’s traditional promotion of literacy.
According to a recent Pew poll, 53% of millennials visited a physical library at least once in 2016. No other age group topped that figure.
It bothers me that so few people avail themselves of library services in person. It bothers me that so many governments have recently chosen to cut library budgets. But the idea of a post-literate society has been somewhat on the periphery of my mind for years. This article has spurred me to take a closer look.
Refusal to read
Thomas F. Bertonneau, an English professor at SUNY Oswego, has reported about a nearby private college.
It’s always petrified of insufficient enrollment, the administration invariably sides with student complaints against the faculty.
So the faculty require less and less intellectual effort from the students.
Students there have even lodged complaints against faculty who assign out-of-class reading and then dare to give failing grades on quizzes based on them.
Given how college and university administrations cower before the most egregious demands by intolerant progressives who oppose free speech for anyone who takes an opposing viewpoint on any issue, I’m willing to believe his evidence of entering a post-literate society.
In an earlier post, I wrote about some bookless academic libraries. They’re not actually bookless, they just don’t have any printed books. One of my sources quoted a freshman at Florida Polytechnic University:
Freshman Logan Micher enjoys being able to save time by quickly finding information he needs when researching a topic.
“When you get a print book you spend time reading to find what you need, but with digital, you can go straight in,” the mechanical and industrial engineering major says. “That this much information is available at our fingertips is something other libraries can’t provide.”
And how is he supposed to know what he needs if he doesn’t at least read an entire chapter? But reading takes too much time. Students might risk learning something they don’t immediately need for a paper. Then they get upset if what they slap together doesn’t get an A.
Actually, expecting maximum reward for minimum understanding is nothing new. Any teacher can tell of multiple examples. But our educational system has become part of the problem.
Plummeting standards for reading and writing
We had to learn all the parts of speech and diagram sentences. She was a dinosaur. No one else was such a stickler for spelling and grammar.
I became grateful to her only after I got to college and had to read a book by an author who wrote such long sentences it seemed no more than half a dozen could fit on a page. I suspect her dullest students wrote better than the brightest students of teachers who decline to stress spelling and grammar.
The father of one of my classmates, whom I had for English in college, fought hard to keep the school district from hiring my ninth-grade English teacher.
A graduate of the same English department, she was completely out of her element. Years later, my mother marvels at how she couldn’t write coherent sentences or spell simple words correctly on the blackboard at parent-teacher meetings.
How representative is the contrast between those two individuals when comparing generations of teachers?
My reading over the years suggests that, while my ninth-grade teacher’s utter incompetence is exceptional, too many teachers come out of college ill-prepared, and maybe even unwilling, to teach basic reading and writing skills, and that too many school administrations devalue them—along with basic math skills.
In an article in the Pennsylvania Review, Joseph Salemi describes hearing graduate students argue over the meaning of “harrow” in the ghost scene in Hamlet. None of them suggest looking it up. And they were the teaching assistants for in introduction to literature course.
If teachers can’t and won’t teach, students can’t learn. Social thinkers have noted signs of a coming post-literate society throughout European civilization since the 1940s. With even teachers unwilling to learn words they might not use out of class, the post-literate society has arrived.
Is social media a cause or symptom of a post-literate society?
I could to on about modern electronic communication and social media.
Twitter forces us to express some kind of thought in 140 characters or less. We do texting on tiny screens with user-unfriendly keyboards.
Emojis and the abbreviations used in tweeting or texting mean complete sentences, proper spelling, and attention to grammar take too much space. At least in those contexts.
School children have started using texting conventions in their homework assignments.
But none of this new technology makes reading, writing, and the kind of thinking they require obsolete. It’s no threat to civilization. That threat comes from an educational system that has given up on education.
That article I described at the beginning of this post? It might not mean that millennials don’t use the library for reading. It may only mean that the author didn’t think millennials reading at the library worth exploring. Still, regarding the library’s role as a meeting place more important than facilitating reading is just another disturbing sign of a post-literate society.
Thank you for reading this far. Sometime today, find a book or a long-form, information-packed magazine article. It doesn’t matter whether you choose print or some kind of e-reader. Just read it!
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