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Reading for fun is a novel idea

By Gary Mayhood and Karen Stabler

Faculty book reviews encourage reading

Night over Water, Cold Sassy Tree, Confed- eracy of Dunces, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Negotiator, and Lonesome Dove are novels selected by the New Mexico State University faculty for the library booklet “In Celebration of Reading.” For the past three spring semes- ters the Library Publications Committee has compiled a booklet of reviews of novels writ- ten by our faculty to promote summer reading. Entertaining, insightful, and significant books are the criteria for selection.

Publishing a review booklet

There are four purposes for the publication.

1) To encourage students to a lifelong reading program that continues after formal university training. This is especially important to our ethnically diverse student population. The university has a student body of over 15,000 of which 80 percent are undergraduates. It is more ethnically diverse than most universities as 68 percent are Anglo, 27 percent are Hispanic, three percent are Native-American, and two percent represent other groups. Also, two-thirds of the student body are from New Mexico, where a significant proportion of the population of this predominantly rural state still does not have access to library service.

2) To stimulate students’ recreational reading.

3) To allow students to know faculty on a more personal basis by seeing what faculty like to read outside their field of study.

4) To promote good public relations between the town and university by having faculty recommend good books, as an alternative to other activities like sports, music, or theater.

The Library Publications Committee, composed of seven members of the library faculty and staff, oversees and coordinates all publications produced for our users. The committee begins the process of organizing “In Celebration of Reading” in late fall. The members meet to decide on a theme for choosing reviewers, i.e., faculty-of-the-year award recipients or teaching faculty who serve on library committees. The committee then creates a list of likely faculty willing to write reviews, and the names are divided between the committee members to make an initial contact by telephone. This call consists of a description of the project, a request for the title of the book to be reviewed by mid-February, and the completed review by mid-March. We then send a follow-up letter and make gentle reminder telephone calls as deadlines approach.

Once the reviews are in hand, we use desktop publishing to produce a booklet using IBM, Macintosh Ilci, and an Abaton Scanner 300/s hardware; and WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, PageMaker, Adobe Illustrator, and OmniPage software. A committee member usually volunteers to photograph each of the reviewers in a personalized setting. Bid estimates are then obtained from local printers. Because our booklet is camera-ready our costs for printing 1,500 of them—containing approximately seven reviews on separate pages with an introductory page and cover—have been under $200.

Publicizing summer reading

Once the booklets are printed, the committee disseminates and publicizes the summer reading program during National Library Week in April. There is a display in the lobby of the library consisting of the books reviewed and photographs of the reviewers. The booklets are distributed at various points within the library, in university colleges, the student union, and the branch campuses. To improve town and university relations, we also distribute these booklets to the public library, civic organizations, and the cultural center. Always eager to offer community service spots, local radio and television stations air interviews and promote our summer reading program.

In this age of computer technology, libraries are more than just bytes of information flowing through a tangled web of networks. There are shelves of books that provide ideas, thoughts, and pleasure. A positive indicator for the program is the increase in circulation statistics for the books reviewed. People come to the library and ask for the booklet and the faculty are very supportive and positive about the program. ■

Gary Mayhood is assistant catalog librarian and Karen Stabler is head of information services at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

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