Reviewing Readers, or, Where Did Our Readers Go?

Wednesday, 15 April, 2015

As the semester begins, there is the usual trudge to the Co-op bookshop, the chaos of hundreds of students trying to find the last copy of that book that everyone needs and the purchase of too many fair trade chocolates in the queue. Sadly, each year there have been fewer and fewer colourfully bound and presented readers to pick up. During the first lecture of semester, it’s now common to have the professor gleefully announce ‘There will be no hard copy reader, it’s all being uploaded week-by-week to the LMS for you’ – as if anything digital is somehow more relatable for Gen-Y and paper is some sort of crazy relic from the past.


Is this really the case though? This sinister trend towards online-readings only (being helped along by the university’s introduction of READINGS ONLINE) makes me want to put forward a case for the humble student reader. After all, more things online is precisely not want I want right now (aren’t we all steadily regressing enough into a digital-only existence with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a billion email accounts, the student portal and online news?)


The beauty of a reader goes beyond the fact that more information is retained by reading a physical copy than words off a screen. After all, how can you battle the existential ennui brought on through reading philosophy articles without being able to hastily draw Nietzsche, replete with magnificent moustache, in the margins? Escape from the irritating nature of an overly pretentious article is usually found through the catharsis of scribbling ‘what a load of wank’ next to a particularly infuriating phrase. It might seem strange that rereading an article during exam time could bring about a pleasant wave of nostalgia, but flicking through odd bits of marginalia and artistic highlighting does help manage exam madness.


Hard-copy readers have all sorts of advantages over their online counterparts. Currently I am unable to access pictures of coffees and cats, memes, or that dress picture through my readers: thus making it a handy barrier to procrastination. I can go to a park, sit in a chair or any small, secluded alcove and focus on study. There is a certain pleasure in remembering an article that could be beneficial to a current essay and hunting for it in an old reader. Flicking through the pages of a subject you did a few semesters ago to find that little piece of info, sticking in that clever footnote and feeling like a citation God is one of the great joys of having a physical book of readings. This is not so much a possibility when everything is online.


If you don’t want to read off a screen, the online readings system requires you to do a lot of organising before the semester starts. What could be a greater waste of time than spending hours rotating pages, resizing and compressing PDF files so that the document (not its contents!) becomes vaguely readable. After hours of tedious work, it’s hard to muster the courage to wait in line somewhere to actually get the whole thing printed and bound. My last venture into Officeworks resulted in a pathetically bound document. Not only did it cost me $60, it disintegrated after just a week. To make matters worse, as I flicked through the now-loose pages, I came across a copy of another student’s private resume. Not only had the resume found its way into my readings, it had been repeated 45 times. While Wendy’s “polite, friendly and hard-working disposition” might have helped me with my assignment, I doubt even her “experience in pasta making” could help me through week 9 without the actual readings.


So whatever newfangled way the university proposes to get readings to students: if it’s online, it will decrease engagement with the subject and take away the small joys of interesting study. Please save our critically endangered readers!