May 18, 2022

Research Article: “Don’t Call It a Comeback: Popular Reading Collections in Academic Libraries”

The following article is published in the latest issue (Vol. 58, No. 1) of Reference & User Services Quarterly (RUSQ).


Don’t Call It a Comeback: Popular Reading Collections in Academic Libraries


Elizabeth Brookbank
Western Oregon University

Anne-Marie Davis
University of Washington

Lydia Harlan
University of Oregon


Reference & User Services Quarterly (RUSQ)
Vol. 58, No. 1 (2018)
DOI:  10.5860/rusq.58.1.6839


Despite the persisting notion that recreational reading does not have a place in the academic mission of college and university libraries, these libraries have a long history of providing pleasure reading for their patrons. During the latter half of the twentieth century, the idea of academic libraries meeting the recreational reading needs of students seems to have fallen out of favor, but a literature review of that time period shows that the collections themselves still existed. Discussion of—and justifications for—these collections, however, has enjoyed a resurgence in the library literature over the past decade. Given this renewed interest, this study seeks to assess just how common these collections are in US academic libraries today, and whether or not they are, in fact, enjoying a comeback from previous decades. This study surveyed the thirty-nine academic libraries that make up the Orbis Cascade Alliance in the Pacific Northwest, a diverse group of libraries in terms of size, type, budget, and student populations. The results of the survey show that a majority of libraries have a recreational collection and that these collections are valued by patrons and librarians alike. Recommendations are made for shifting the perspective on popular reading collections and their place in academic libraries, as well as for how to study them in the future.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.