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THE PIPELINE: Why Do People Read?

By Stephen Abram - Posted Mar 1, 2010
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Tom Peters wrote an interesting thought piece for Library Journal, which is available on its website, that I recommend to you: “The Future of Reading: As the Book Changes Form, the Library Must Champion Its Own Power Base—Readers” (Nov. 1, 2009;

Is reading in jeopardy? Personally and professionally, I really doubt it. I agree with Tom’s point that libraries must focus on the reading experience and less so on the traditional book format. That’s not to say that things haven’t changed. When I was a young learner, we really only had to deal with hard-copy formats for reading—books, catalogs, periodicals, newspapers, and not much more (sometimes the odd credits on a TV program and an ad or a billboard or some other sign). Now, when we acknowledge it, there is a great deal more reading going on beyond hard-copy formats—blogs, websites, video games, online manuals, ebooks, and much more. Is reading at risk? Not by a long shot.

Of course, things have changed. Again, as a young learner, my reading choices had a number of gatekeepers who limited choice—teachers, parents, librarians, publishers, editors, and more. Each gatekeeper had professional value systems and ostensibly worked to edit my reading choices for my own and society’s good. I wonder now if that was for the best. I was lucky enough to have a kind librarian who allowed me to borrow books from the adult section of the library, located on another floor. Are publishers, editors, and librarians at risk? I think we can only answer yes to this question. I am not a fatalist to think that this is an unmitigated risk. Smart people will ensure that these professions evolve and adapt to a changing environment. Those who don’t adapt to the new environment will lose.

How Do We Adapt?

Now there’s the big question. I find it less than helpful and actually wrongheaded to frame the challenges facing us as an epic battle to protect the book. That’s just foolish. If we protect print books with irrational fervor, we risk missing the rest of the opportunities the future can provide. Books will continue to exist and do their job when they are presented in the right format—especially for recreational fiction where personal imagination plays such a key role in the experience of reading fiction. Also, with respect to the textbook, we will continue to need a format that provides the ordered scaffolds for building learning and understanding in an effective way. Textbooks will continue to be blended in educational environments with other experiences, both personal and virtual, but they will continue to capture the process and intent of the education and learning experiences.

What we do need is a better discussion on why people read. It seems basic, but do we really understand why people read? Here’s my modest, unranked list of reasons off the top of my small noggin:

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-to-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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