"I almost never read for pleasure," says Nakul Berry, a 17-year-old sophomore student at the American University in Dubai (AUD).

"When I was younger I loved the Harry Potter books but when the fourth one came out, I got scared and left it!" he says with a laugh.

The finance student occasionally browses through a magazine or newspaper but most of his reading is online.

Berry is not alone in his preference for digital media. AUD business student Khaldoon Rizeq says the academic readings for his classes are not fun but he avidly reads about his favourite topics on the web.

"I love reading about marketing, communications and filmmaking so I download courses from the internet," he said.
Campus libraries

Berry and Rizeq admit to almost never physically visiting their campus library; instead they source their information from the university's databases.

"Unless we have a mandatory reading prescribed by the professor, I don't really go to the library. I probably go three times in the whole year," says Berry.

Kathy Ray, library director at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), says students use the library not just to source academic texts.

"Some come in to use the computers to check their e-mails or do research. Others come in to work on group projects as we provide the space and resources they need to assemble their PowerPoint presentations. Still, others come in for leisure reading."

Saba Gaffar, manager of library services at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), says that students also use the library for workshops.

"We use the library as a centre to teach students how to make the best of the resources we have available," she says.
Student demands

Ray says the most common books checked out include preparatory books such as those for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. "A number of fiction books and bestsellers also go out a lot," she says.

Although Rizeq is not a campus library user, he is fond of John Grisham novels and enjoys the feel of a book in his hands when he reads for pleasure.

Larissa Koshkina, a freshman interior design student at AUD, is a more traditional reader who enjoys romance novels by Danielle Steel and Sydney Sheldon. "I read almost every evening before going to bed," she says.

"Many students read magazines and books related to their coursework; these cannot be checked out and are therefore difficult to track," says Ray.

She adds that following a recent student survey that reflected a demand for more fiction, the university added 100 new titles to their collection.

"To encourage students to read, we ask them what's interesting for them and steer them in the right direction. Reading should not seem like a chore," she says.

Literacy among youth

Ray says students are reading more than we may think as they are exposed to various texts on a daily basis.

"I think that often kids aren't given as much credit as they should for reading," Ray says. "For example, when we see a student sitting in front of a computer we may assume they are doing so for recreational purposes when they are most likely reading something; it could be an electronic book, an article, a journal entry, anything. We have over 30,000 electronic books in the library."

However Gaffar says that the trend has deviated from reading scholarly material. He attributes it to modern technology and today's fast-paced lifestyle. Students expect information to be fed to them rather than having to fish for it.

"More awareness needs to be given to literacy among today's youth," she says. "People are slowly losing interest and need motivation to pick up a book and read."

Arabic literature

Universities have a number of Arabic texts; however most of them are related to coursework. "The Arabic collection is designed to meet the Arabic course requirements," Ray says. "However we do have Arabic books and magazines that students read all the time."

Gaffar says the books are targeted at those interested in learning the language.

"We have several international students who are interested in learning the language and its culture and for those students we have a five-level series of books," she says.

When asked why a larger Arabic collection wasn't available, officials say English is the primary method of instruction and so English books are more in demand.

Public libraries

Although Dubai Public Libraries – and most universities – have not planned any events for International Literacy Day, many events focused on issues of literacy are held throughout the year says director of library services Mohammad Jasem Al Eriadi.

"There are many activities held regularly to encourage reading among young people such as summer activities, story telling, the Public Library Awards, lectures and poetry events," he says.

Dubai Public Libraries' statistics show that one third of library visitors are students. Over 40 per cent are female.

However, Al Eriadi says reading is on the decline among adults due to reasons such as busy lifestyles, the ease of using the internet and the availability of other entertainment facilities.

While bookstores have seen an increase in audio books and e-books, Al Eriadi says they are still scarce and thus are not popular among Arabic speakers.

Arabic readers, he says, like to read Arabic fiction and novels "especially the classical ones".

He adds: "The young people, they like to read hot new topics such as sports and technology."

International Literacy Day

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by Unesco on November 17, 1965. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

On International Literacy Day each year, Unesco reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world.

Some 774 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; 72.1 million children are out of school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.

According to Unesco's 2006 statistics, South and West Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate (58.6 per cent), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (59.7 per cent), and the Arab States (62.7 per cent).

The celebration's theme for 2007 and 2008 is Literacy and Health.

Source: en.wikipedia.org