Rare Book Monthly
Articles - September - 2009 Issue
What Freshmen Don't Know... and You Should Know
By Michael Stillman
Beloit College has issued its annual "Mindset List" of what freshmen entering college this year don't know or have not experienced, and it is both hilarious and frightening. You may wish you didn't know how much they don't know. It's funny for all the items of pop culture we older folks assume everyone knows but predates their experience. However, it is also scary for those in the book trade or otherwise connected to those old-school gatherings of paper, cardboard and cloth. If you wonder why many of those who love books are becoming concerned for the future, there are a couple of items on this list that will help you understand.
The incoming college freshman class of 2013 was born in 1991. Beloit looked at that date, and put together a list of things people born in that year have either never experienced or have always experienced. It will make you feel old. We will start with the humorous, but here is a warning. The ending of this article gets very serious because a couple of these items pertain directly to books.
For students entering college for the first time this fall:
Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
Tattoos have always been chic.
Rap music has always been mainstream.
The KGB has never officially existed.
They have never had to "shake down" an oral thermometer.
State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
Condoms have always been advertised on television.
Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
There have always been flat screen televisions.
They have never been Saved by the Bell.
The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends (I didn't know this).
Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
Apartheid and ketchup as the condiment of choice are not the only things today's entering college students have never experienced, and here is where it gets deadly serious for those who care about books. These are two more items from the Beloit list:
They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
We aren't sure whether the first more reflects electronic means of finding books, or that these young people have never looked for a book. However, the second points out that books themselves are being replaced by electronic images. Freshmen entering college today may have very limited experience with the printed book. They may be as unfamiliar to these students as a "shake down" thermometer. Will this generation buy books, collect books, fight to the death for their preservation in libraries? What will make them care so much for something they use so little? I don't pretend to have the answer. I cannot even tell you whether the loss of books represents the great tragedy I imagine, or whether I am simply another old fogey clinging to an outdated technology because I struggle to master the new one. I hope someone can answer these questions, and find the compelling reason/excuse to preserve what to me represents the epicenter of intelligent life. Help!