My new perspective on reading

A library made of books

A library made of books

A librarian blogging about reading – how unusual!  Only joking of course.  Amazingly, I have had the subject of reading pottering around my head for just about forever, but it has come to the fore a bit more recently due to several insightful items I have read and also more forcefully due to a personal revelation.

First the reading. This blog post began with a blog post by Kathryn Greenhill at Librarians Matter.  In Our brand is books. Then what? she wrote about how users see libraries as being about books, but then moved on to the more interesting notion of book lovers and book readers, where they sit in the hierarchy of libraries and the new models that are coming out in publishing.  Well worth a read.  What I got out of it, was the revolution that is beginning to really happen with reading, but not of the printed book type (although there is still plenty of that happening, I am pleased to say).  More on that shortly.

My introspection was further fuelled by Walt Crawford in Cites and Insights December 2008.  The perspective in that issue, Writing about Reading, he also wrote about the To Read or not to Read report which came out in 2007. To summarise, the report claims that Americans are reading less.  Walt takes to it with enthusiasm, pointing out several inconsistencies in it, which are well worth reading.  However, the thing I picked up on was that the proposed definition of reading, according to the report, was books, although it could be taken to be narrowly defined to reading literary books.

Cat reading online news

Cat reading online news

Then in parallel, but not unrelated, came an article on The Inside Story – “The bad news” which outlined that the traditional Australian news consumers are changing, away from newspapers and even television to a certain extent.  A greater proportion of Australian news consumers are now getting what they need from the internet.  Some of this is general news sites, some of this is the actual reading of newspapers online.

So it seems that reading is changing.  I have no problem with that.  My public library has increasing statistics and not just for the always popular CD and DVD collections.  Magazines and graphic novels are high turnover items and fiction and non-fiction items continue to be well used.  Our library now has 4 blogs and we are building a good following on each of those as well.

But do we still define reading as reading of print exclusively?  I am a long-time librarian and have only just realised that to a certain extent I still did.  I have been reading blogs for quite some time, but usually printed out the articles I wanted and read them away from the computer, which only reinforced that assumption, incorrect as it is.

Even with the introduction of e-books in various forms, with a wide range of content and available through a growing number of digital devices, I did not really think about reading any great amount of content online as either possible, or even reading.

Until now.  Towards the end of last year, I discovered fan fiction.  I know its been around for decades, almost as long as the internet, but it was only then that I found something of interest to me.  Amazingly, I have also discovered, to my amazement and delight, that not only can there be good fan fiction to read (and thanks to all those amazing people out there writing it), but that I can spend hours and hours (if I let myself and can get away with it), sitting at my computer and reading and enjoying the stories on my LCD screen. (PS. Fan-fiction is “stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator”. Wikipedia)

I have been amazed all the more, because I automatically thought that my eyes would tire, I would get eyestrain etc, but in fact have not experienced any of the symptoms I expected to experience from even longer sessions on the computer. And its not only me.  I have been hearing and reading stories from people who are quite happy and comfortable reading quite lengthy tomes on their iPhones, Blackberrys, mobile phones, computers and more.



So my perspective on reading has changed from just reading printed text on paper (in some form).  Reading for me, now that I have finally realised it, is carrier neutral and I will read what I choose to, because I choose to, regardless of the format.

OK, so poke me and say Duh for me finally coming to that grand realisation.  But its been more than that to me, its also started a whole train of thought with reading and libraries as well.

Libraries in the last decade, but definitely in recent years, have been placing more of an emphasis on reader development – being the work of librarians and other professionals “designed to encourage reading and deepen the enjoyment of individual readers”. Wikipedia.  This has taken many forms, from websites to booklists, to displays, subject oriented newsletters and so much more.  Two of our library blogs have this aim in mind and are focussed on news, reviews and more, much related to reading books.  So I am all for it.

However, the question that arises for me now, is how can libraries be involved in reader development, for things that aren’t in their collections and particularly for those things that people don’t need libraries to access?  We can provide e-books for their digitial devices, although that is still in its infancy, however at this time reader development is about encouraging reading of the items in our library’s collections.  What about all the online content that will never be a part of a library collection?

Should reader development only be about encouraging readership using the items we already have?  Or can libraries expand reader development to things like fan fiction, which is only generally available online? Should the focus be on the content, or more on the reader, more of whom are becoming more comfortable reading online and are finding what they want to read there? And if it is the latter, how do we help our readers to find what they will enjoy reading online?  That is my big question and the breadth of it and all its implications is only just starting to hit me.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this and whether digital reading is the same for you now as it is for me and many others.

Happy New Year in reading, whatever its format!

PS. And that’s even going anywhere near the whole issue of audio books, lol!


    • Sharon Uthmann on January 15, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Hi Michelle! I too read a lot of fan fiction and never thought I could sit for hours on end reading from a screen. BTW, which fan fiction do you read? I’ve been a fan of “The Outsiders” fan fiction for years and am now delving into “Twilight” fan fiction but am yet to find any really good ones. “The Outsiders” has about a dozen really great authors.

    My husband never reads books but he reads lots and lots of online content so he is still a reader absorbing words for both information and enjoyment.

    Yes, I think we do have to rethink what reading is as the formats that words appear on continually change.

    • Pru Menzies on January 16, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Correct once again Connected Librarian,
    I’m all for reading, in whatever format that works for you! Personally, I’m still attached to the printed book, but I’m excited by the idea of the Japanese surge in mobile phone novels and the stories the Shanachies are telling inspire me about the Next Generation of libraries where the “container” is designed to best transmit that story!
    Our role in reader development is to open the book for readers – and encourage everyone to find the content and format that works for them.
    I’m not sure if these would be “fan” fiction but I really enjoyed reading and discovering the links and influences of “Mr Pip” by Lloyd Jones, showing his great admiration and flattery for “Great Expectations” and “Ahab’s wife” or the “Star-gazer” by Naslund, which was inspired by the story of Moby Dick. I guess this is a bit like children enjoy the fun of fractured fairy tales – but it only works if you know the original story!

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