Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!

This Monday marked the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  In honor of this milestone, NPR featured a number of stories analyzing the history and popularity of this epic novel over the past two centuries.  My favorite related story was a cartoon depiction of Pride and Prejudice by Jen Sorensen (check it out: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/27/170253360/pride-and-prejudice-turns-200).

While NPR celebrated the continued relevance of this Jane Austen classic in its Arts and Life programs, All Things Considered ran  this story: “New Reading Standards Aim To Prep Kids For College - But At What Cost?” (listen here: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/19/169798643/new-reading-standards-aim-to-prep-kids-for-college-but-at-what-cost?sc=tw&cc=share). The program discussed new attempts to raise reading scores for high school students by exchanging English class curriculum based primarily on literature to a greater focus on nonfiction.

The timing of these two stories seems too ironic to ignore. How can we be celebrating the importance of a piece of classic literature, one that has been enjoyed for two centuries, at the same time as our education system decides to move away from a curriculum based on literature? It is my personal opinion that being exposed to works of fiction from the literary canon is just as important as reading historic documents.  That being said, it appears as if our education system is at a crossroads about how to best prepare the next generation.  If the English curriculum is moving towards a primary focus on nonfiction, where does that leave Jane Austen?

Perhaps more importantly, for the sake of our perspective as future librarians, how does that change the role of the public or school library?  Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books, and it is important to me that the next generation of readers is encouraged to read challenging novels like this one even if there is no time for it in the school curriculum.  The place of the library within the community is evolving in so many ways and these two articles remind us how changing trends in education are another influencing factor regarding the role of a librarian.

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