Think hard before you list

August 2, 1996

At around this time every year intending students are visiting bookshops and public libraries with lists of books they are advised to read before their higher education course begins. The idea of such preparation is certainly admirable. From our experience, in the shared Melton public and college library, the reality is much less encouraging.

On an average reading list, a certain proportion of books are now out of print. Of the books that are in print, many of the more specialised are only likely to be found on the shelves in larger, city centre, or university bookshops. To order these books may often take a month, by which time students will have already started their courses. The price of some is a further deterrent to purchase.

The public library may seem the natural place to go. Unfortunately the "poor man's university" has itself suffered the effects of years of increasing poverty. Declining money for book-buying has caused a continuing reduction in the range of books purchased and academic and technical subjects have suffered disproportionately. A library authority like Leicestershire may have no copies of many of the titles, published in the past five to ten years, on an average reading list. Even in the best cases, available copies are few and library reservations can take as long as bookshop orders.

Pre-course reading lists can raise false hope and unrealistic expectations and can be counter-productive. I would strongly urge everyone to review critically what they contain. Is what is suggested realistic, accessible, truly relevant? Your academic or public library can advise on availability. It seems unhelpful to wrong-foot students before they have even started.

ANDREW POOLE

College librarian Melton Mowbray College

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