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Discussion: Why don’t university students read?

Shoutout to past Shar for writing this on a long bus ride and saving present Shar, ensured in the business of the last week of semester, to still post on time. Love you, past Shar! ❤ ❤

Discussion_ Why Don't University Students Read_

I’ve had several conversations recently with people saying that they used to like reading but didn’t anymore, or didn’t know how I read so much (when really I’ve been reading way less than I used to since starting uni), or the ‘I literally haven’t read a book since I was 10’. I don’t understand it, because this obviously isn’t me, but building on Shanti’s discussion the other day, and some comments from Maraia, I’ve been thinking about how to reconcile the fact that I love reading and still do it despite being a very busy student with the fact that I’m in a minority.

I should look up some stats, but in my experience lots of people read a lot in primary school, maybe less in intermediate and high school, and often stop or do a lot less in university. The books people do read tend to be more nonfiction and intellectual, which is great if you actually enjoy it, but I feel like a lot of people don’t?? And often people read thes kinds of books very slowly; I rarely see my friends who tell me they read with book (do they just hide them in their room? More on carrying books around in a post to come.) This also evokes discussions about whether reading quantity is better than quality, but I will say that if you’re only reading one very intellectual book every six months, maybe you should go for something more enjoyable instead.

To be honest, I feel a bit of moral superiority as a reader, like I’m just a bit better than people who watch movies or scroll through Facebook or just socialize for fun (Although I have been doing a lot of socializing recently and a lot less reading) because I’m an extravert and I live with 180 people my age and see people my age all the time in classes).


But the question is, why do people stop reading in university? I’ve theorized a few reasons:

  • Access Or rather, lack of it. High school and primary school libraries tend to have actual fun books as well as some for research, but university libraries (at least at my university) have almost nothing you’d actually want to read for fun. Maybe a few English texts but basically no.
  • Promotion or rather, lack of it. In primary school, children are encouraged to read and take books home and given reading diaries and reading homework and taken to the library and told to read by librarians. The older we get, the less this happens. In my first year of high school, my English teacher made us spend 20 minutes a week reading. In subsequent years, we were told that reading for fun would help us do better in standardized tests and our classes, even if we weren’t give time explicitly for it. In uni (maybe this is different for English majors/BAs? But I haven’t been told to read for fun in the arts paper I do take) the number of people in your life encouraging you to read dramatically drops.
  • Role models or rather, not enough. Of course I know some people read, and you do occasionally see people wandering past with a paperback, but nobody is reading for fun so you don’t do it either. If more people read, then more people would read as they all recommended books to each other and such.
  • Time or rather, not enough. This is a fairly basic one: even more than in high school, university students are busy with assignments and lectures and socializing and work and trying to get excersise and going out and drinking.I don’t think this is an excuse for doing NO reading—we seem to find the time for other frivolities that aren’t a necessary part of the schedule, though of course everybody needs a bit of free time where they don’t feel like they have to do something—but it’s a good excuse for doing less.
  • Expectations Lots of my lecturers recommend/expect that we read all these extra things, and I think lots of us feel that now we’re intellectual students, we should read dense, intelligent things more than novels. A lot of my friends do read things like Sapiens, or classics or books about politics but I often get the sense that they’re not really enjoying them. And when your politics lecturer is always refurring to things you don’t understand, or your history lecturer is saying ‘I’m sure you’ve heard of ___ event and you haven’t, we start to worry that we’re reading the wrong things, and wishing to engagie in more intellectual reading.
  • Knowing what to read or rather, not. I think lots of people don’t realise that there are books they can actually enjoy that aren’t trashy and feature characters and themes that are actually relevant to their lives. This is what YA and NA is and university students need it.

I think university students stop reading because they’re busy, but also because less people are telling them to read and it’s harder for them to access books (not impossible, but not in front of their noses either). We don’t see our friends reading and feel overwhelmed by the very not fun academic stuff we do have to read. Once people stop reading for fun, it’s hard to get back to doing it, and because I think that reading is very valuable, this make me sad. Especially in first world countries, it’s totally possible for students to get good books, and I think reading for fun make you smarter and more compassionate and is very valuable. The question is how to help us read for fun.

Since you’re on this blog, I’m guessing you read for fun. So, are you in university? What do you think is stopping students (including those in high school) from reading like they did when they were younger? What do you think would help?



13 thoughts on “Discussion: Why don’t university students read?

  1. In Australia, we have what is commonly referred to as “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, so while primary school/high school may encourage “certain” types of books, there’s the common attitude problem that the act of reading is common and at the same time of little to no value (this makes no sense to me but *shrugs*). This is, of course, incorrect. It’s a privilege to be able to read and write. But it seems like the attitude towards books at home has far more influence than the education system.

    My social group, which is people who are mostly casual but regular readers, is seen as odd or unusual in comparison to other groups. A lot of the people I know outside of my social group do not read frequently, it’s very common for people to tell me that they haven’t read a book since high school (aka required reading they HAD TO read for English). I suspect people in this category have been trained to think of Reading as something they HAVE TO do, not something you could do freely for enjoyment, which is sad, but that’s also a much bigger problem to solve.

    I think there’s also an echo-chamber problem with University. With the exception of outliers, the people who have grown to enjoy reading or actively pursue reading/learning are naturally more inclined to enroll in University degree. I mean, a core element of an Arts degree (regardless of category) is about being able to critically evaluate reading material, if that’s not something you enjoy, you probably wouldn’t look into subject/units/fields of study that focus on reading.

    There are also problems within the University system, such as of when students reach University level there’s more of an elitist/classist attitude towards reading, like professional reading versus personal reading. My university degree was heavily focused on Reading and Writing (they were the core elements of the degree) but it was rarely about personal reading or reading for enjoyment. The University tended to promote books they thought their students should be reading, regardless of whether these books were good or enjoyable. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that University Burn-out is becoming more common.


  2. Okay, I had to skim pass the rest and jump over everyone else’s comments because I have so much to say about your ‘Access’ point.

    I currently work in an academic library and I’m a student in a different institution too (at university) and the access issue is ridiculous. Reading is so important for mental health and wellbeing throughout the stress of our studies and associating the activity of reading with only scary studying is the worst you can do for a young adult. It makes me very concern and very mad though, because from the library staff point of view I have come against a brick wall in terms of trying to promote reading for pleasure to the students. Because of the increase of tuition fees in the UK and the value for money factor, universities are nervous and careful with regards to the ways that they are using the money and with the purchases and changes that they make. There is an old fashion notion in the upper end of the ladder that an academic library should be only that: academic, and I feel that absolutely misses the point of what libraries are for and what education is all about. We are meant to be teaching and fomenting a way of thinking in our students, not only facts and data to do with their degrees. We should be encouraging curiosity, critical thinking and as many avenues of knowledge as possible at a time when they (we) are ripe for grappling difficult subjects without as much hand holding as we had in the past. Access to reading for pleasure or for reading outside your suggested and core texts should be absolutely essential in academic libraries but often, due to money concerns and the general idea that course content comes first, this gets put in the back burner until someone throws it in the bin. It is really sad and frustrating and harmful to the students because sometimes when you’re in Uni, uni is your whole world and your world should include as much of everything as you can possibly have to make more rounded and happy people.

    Ok, I think the rant is sort of over even though those are not even my best points in favour of reading for pleasure whilst at uni.

    Also, with regards to carrying books around: that’s why I can read so much! There is so much waiting and glancing around in life. I get that people fill it up with their smartphones now but even the internet sometimes gets boring! A book on the other hand…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always feel it’s so sad when people stop reading…😭 I mean I do understand with uni being so busy. My sister was a voracious bookworm in primary/early highschool (I mean!! She blogged with me about books!) but then later highschool years started + uni and she neeever reads. I think she read 2 books later year and one was mine and one was The Raven Boys because she valued her LIFE and I wasn’t letting her leave alive unless she read it. (I am kind.) But I also think if your peers aren’t reading, that’s a thing to? For me, in highschool, I ended up reading less partially because I used up all my spare time writing, but partially because my “friends” thought reading was only something you did under duress and rolled their eyes at my bookworm habits.😭 So that does make a huge difference!

    And also maybe the guilt of reading factors too? Like “oh I should be working” and some people won’t let themselves chill out with a book?

    My dad says he hasn’t read a book since highschool. I CAN’T IMAGINE THAT SORT OF EXISTENCE.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a great and important post. I really related to it because growing up, I was a really voracious reader and University just sucked the life out of me. I really struggled to find the time to read, but I thankfully had my kindle to support me in the times that I did.

    Good thing I’m not studying anymore because i can now finally read how much i want to haha

    Really great post ❤


  5. I completely agree that after high school, expectations change, and people feel pressured to read differently. I also agree that most of them probably aren’t enjoying it. But I bet that if one or two people started talking about the fun novels they just read, other people would admit that they’d enjoy a book like that, too, and then maybe it would grow from there. (This could just be wishful thinking, haha.)

    My university library barely had any fiction, either. I had to get a library card at the public library to continue reading. But I’m sure I’m one of the few who went to that extra effort.

    I think it’s important that people keep reading for fun during college, but one of the comments made me think that we also need to encourage people to pick up the habit again AFTER college. Another person brought up the fact that assigned reading can turn people off of reading, and I definitely agree. I think those two ideas should somehow be combined – reading campaigns for new graduates and reminders that they can now read WHATEVER THEY WANT, and it’s a glorious thing.


  6. “I feel a bit of moral superiority as a reader, like I’m just a bit better than people who watch movies or scroll through Facebook…” I love that you said this! 🙂 It’s so honest! And I can feel that way sometimes too. I like your comment on if you’re only reading one intellectual book every 6 months maybe try something else. So true. Switch it up! I agree schools often do a disservice to reading as it makes it feel like a chore and as kids get older academia doesn’t do a good enough job of encouraging reading for fun. I don’t know how to help people read for fun again. Maybe we should work on schools not sucking the fun out of it in the first place. ;0


  7. Interesting post! I’ve always been an avid reader but definitely read less for fun while I was in college – partially due to a lack of time and partially due to reading so many textbooks that I wanted to spend free time doing something else. After I graduated, though, I went right back to a rhythm of reading for fun. But everyone is different!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is such an interesting post, I love it. It always surprises me – actually, it surprises people when I tell them how much I read. They wonder how I have time to do so… thing is, I take time to read, and that’s something not everyone does. I also feel like people might step back from reading because of school – I know that personally, in my schools we have required readings and these books weren’t so great at times, maybe giving some people a bad opinion of books and reading overall or just discouraging them to read overall. I guess they haven’t met the right books though 🙂

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  9. I’ve had this conversation with my siblings plenty of times, and the answer for them is pretty simple and explanatory: They don’t have to.
    In elementary and high school, we are encouraged to read and sometimes given books to read for school, so we have to read. As we grow older, reading becomes less and less of a priority, and because we don’t have to, we don’t. You never do things you’re not forced to do, once people start forcing it on you.
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have had this conversation with some of my co-workers around my age about why they don’t read anymore, and I think a lot of it stems from being forced to read books they don’t enjoy in high school and general college courses. There is a huge difference between going to a book fair as a child, finding a book that sound interesting, and picking it up to read for fun versus sitting in a classroom, being assigned a certain amount of pages and specific questions to answer.

    I think a lot of the joy of reading gets sucked out through assigned reading in school. I have encouraged my co-workers to go online and look up books about their interests, or to go to book shops because people often lament the fact that they don’t read. They want to, but don’t think they have time for it, or have bad memories from school.

    I think assigned reading’s attempts to make students read actually turns off more people than it helps. Reading for fun should be developed at an early age if possible, and that starts with parents reading to their children and encouraging it. If the parents don’t enjoy reading themselves because of their bad experiences, the cycle just continues.

    Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also agree about the lack of time, specifically for university students, to read for pleasure. I personally studied English as my major and spent so much time reading what I was assigned that I only read one or two books for fun a semester. Part of what helped me start this blog was the ability to read books I wanted to read after graduating haha.

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  11. Hi Shar. You raise an important issue here. I’m well past uni, but my sense is that what you write here also was the case when I was at uni – but I don’t remember talking about it with others. Which possibly confirms that not reading for pleasure was so ‘normal’ that it didn’t even warrant being talked about. I got turned off reading in the 3rd form when we had to read set books and analyse them for assignments and it was many years post-uni before I got back into reading for pleasure. Book clubs are pretty popular among many of my friends. I wonder if it’s a ‘stage of life’ thing, or whether these people have maintained their love of reading thru uni and beyond. Maybe book clubs shouldn’t just be the domain of the middle-aged! Most book clubs I hear about have a strong social aspect as well as sharing the love of books and good discussion. I agree that reading for fun, and beyond uni requirements is really worthwhile.

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