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Reading during distance learning this semester

On campus, students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have access to the Leisure Reading Collection on the first floor of the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery. The collection began over 10 years ago in order to provide university students and staff with more titles for entertainment than an academic library typically collects, according to Katy Sullivan, Head of Reference for the library. Sullivan selects ten books each month to add to the collection, referencing recommendations submitted through an online form, bestseller lists and other libraries’ collections in order to keep the Leisure Reading Collection filled with relevant titles.

Sullivan works closely with Lynda Aldana, Associate Director of Technical Services, who orders the books and other library staff from several departments to maintain the collection and the room in it’s in. Once a year, library staff remove one hundred books from the shelves, moving them to the main AOK stacks or donating them, to make room for newer and more popular titles in the limited space. Age and circulation together determine whether a title remains; Sullivan describes the collection as “highly circulating,” meaning students check out the books at a high rate, with only approximately seventy percent of titles on the shelves at a given time. Students use the first-floor space, naturally, to read and also to study and take naps on the comfortable chairs, creating a quiet atmosphere of relaxation amid the hectic pace of college life.

For the rest of the Spring 2020 semester, per President Hrabowski’s March 19 announcement via email, classes will take place online and campus will be open in a limited capacity, making it likely that the AOK library will remain closed. This means that UMBC students stuck at home will not have access to the physical books in the Leisure Reading Collection. Given their typical high circulation, it seems that UMBC students want to keep reading. They can do so while making use of UMBC resources by using ebooks that are available on the AOK website.

According to a March 16 WBALTV  article, many public libraries in Maryland are also closed during the month of March, and it is unclear whether they will reopen. In the meantime, many Maryland residents can access free ebooks through their county libraries’ websites; these include the Baltimore County Public Library, the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore City, the Howard County Library System, and the Anne Arundel County Public Library. Residents of other counties and states can check online to see whether their local library systems offer similar services.

Some other online databases, although less likely to include new popular titles, provide thousands of e-books featuring fiction and non-fiction, especially classics. Project Gutenberg and the Library of Congress both offer free online collections without requiring user information. Other sites, including Manybooks, Smashwords and Open Library, provide more free options for e-books, but require users to create accounts and sign up. 

If they are willing to spend money, students can also read a wide variety of books online through paid services. Kindle through Amazon and Nook through Barnes & Noble both offer a great variety of new releases from major publishers as soon as they come out. Audible, another Amazon company, provides audiobooks to download and listen to; offers for free trials exist on the main site and through affiliate links on other sites such as YouTube. 

The leisure reading collection is a resource that many UMBC students utilize. Though it is currently unavailable as the AOK library is closed, students can access books online to read for fun while maintaining social distancing during the coming weeks. Making the most of these reading opportunities can help students pass the time and feel connected to other readers while away from campus.