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THE PIPELINE: Promoting Reading Using This 2.0 Stuff

By Stephen Abram - Posted Sep 1, 2008
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Reading is a social activity.

There—I said it! I know a lot of people see it as solitary, introverted, internalized, quiet, and even as antisocial! And frankly, it isn’t.

This attitude about reading is limiting. It creates a mind-set that drives to a place where reading is isolated from mainstream social activities—find a quiet place, the only reading that counts is books, you don’t need to share your reading with others if you don’t want to, and so on. But the experience of reading is just so much more than that, and that social dimension should be encouraged.

In the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of reading. I despise the ivory tower focus on long-form reading (novels and scholarly articles) as somehow superior to all of the others. All forms of reading are valid—especially among developing readers. Whole new genres have developed, especially episodic reading in the gaming world and hybrid styles such as graphic novels. Others have expanded in "market share," such as web reading, blog reading, news sites, and more. And still others have built interesting adjacencies where reading and real-time reviews and criticism, as well as community responses, have emerged. It’s an exciting and challenging world of reading that is no longer the sole purview of gatekeepers such as publishers, bookstore buyers, librarians, and magazine editors.

Can we prepare our learners to be full participants in this emerging world order?

Most research is showing that Millennials are reading more—and more widely—than their parents, reaching higher levels of education, and communicating and critiquing the written word and opinion at much higher rates. Some special interest groups play with the stats, but the overall picture is one of a generation of readers. Indeed, we are fast approaching the time when the majority of learners under 30 will have also shared their written creations with others in publicly accessible web environments.

Librarians and teachers have done a lot to support reading. From novel studies to creative writing classes, poetry slams, and genre training initiatives, and from haiku to short stories and more, we’ve been there. We’ve collected and cataloged excellent books so that they can be found. We’ve made bibliographies so people can find other books they may like or need for research. We’ve recommended books to learners, parents, and friends. Many of us have written book reviews. Maybe you’ve done an index to a book, or edited one, or written one. You’ve done book talks. Great! Library folks have been doing this sort of stuff for centuries and doing it well. But I believe that we can get better, hotter, and more admired and loved! Really!

I visit so many school libraries and other types of libraries aimed at young learners—both physical and virtual—and see so many innovations promote books and reading that excite me. I also see a lot of folks who claim that new technologies are unnecessary in libraries—especially anything Two-Point-Oh! I fail to see the distinction, and I don’t think it’s just me. Good educational and library practice demands that we look for anything that improves our mandates to promote learning, community, research skills, writing, and reading.

Of course we can improve and do better. That’s why we call it information practice and teaching practice. You just keep practicing as professionals—just like the medical practice, nursing practice, legal practice, and accounting practice. Professionals get better, though never perfect, with practice. There’s no denying that our traditional practice is a great thing. We protect, preserve, and serve the human cultural and research record, encourage learning, and connect users with the right books, at the right time, in the right place. That’s awesome. Then again, good information practice thinking demands that we ask what the negative issues are with the traditional way we practice, and how can we get better or complement it? Are there big opportunities with these 2.0 technologies?

Our traditional practice with books is not as scalable as we and our users might want. How do we get book recommendations to scale as well in libraries as Amazon does on the web, but still aimed at our age cohorts? Traditional practice offers a personal touch with a human being. That needs to continue, but can we extend that personal touch beyond the walls? Many of our print-based advisory and recommendation activities are largely anonymous, or at least lack the personal branding that excites connections between readers and advisors. Since we really care about books (and reading), we can use the new tools on the web to put our services on steroids.

Why 2.0? Well, because it offers the first real opportunity to use technology to go beyond search, storage, and retrieval and actually engage with readers in a scalable way beyond our walls and beyond physical book formats. Read on …

15 Things 2.0 Can Do For Books and Reading


This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-per-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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