I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks. At first it was going to be a rant about the importance of accepting reading in different formats as reading. But, I’ve done that. Then it was going to be a post about how reading isn’t about format but about content. But, I’ve don’t that. Then it was going to be a post about lending clubs for digital devices. I just kept having different ideas about what a post related to technology and reading should focus on. Instead of selecting just one topic, I decided to write a post that covers a variety of topics related to the world of reading in the digital age. Here goes.

  • A little less then two years ago I wrote on this blog about the fact that I was reading more than ever because I was reading books using the Kindle app on my iPhone. Since that post I have only read one book in traditional physical form – a manga title that wasn’t available as an ebook at the time I needed to read it. That means in almost two years I have pretty much solely read digitally. I actually enjoy telling people that because I like to see the reactions I get. I get everything from no reaction at all, which is great, to “How could that be? Don’t you miss the feel, the smell, the whatever of the physical book.” The answer is “No, I don’t miss anything about the feel, the smell, the whatever of the physical book.”

    Where am I going with this? Two years ago I was more unique, as a non-physical book reader, then I am today. But yet, I still talk to librarians who are amazed by the fact and possibility of reading solely on devices. The amazement is something that has to go away. More and more teens are reading this way – check out this article from last week’s New York Times – and this survey from O’Reilly (both also just posted in the Tweets of the Week) and librarians need to be there too. Even if you don’t have a device or stil like to read a physical book, it’s important to not judge the non-physical book reader for his or her preference. And, it’s important to try it out just to see how it works. (You can’t knock it before you’ve tried it, right?)

  • Recently Overdrive, a popular vendor of digital content for libraries, made it possible to read their books on a variety of devices – including Droid devices and Apple devices. This is a great thing as it means that teens can access library materials on the devices that they carry around in their pockets. But, I’ve found that for many libraries, when it comes to this Overdrive expansion, the focus is primarily, if not solely, on the mechanics of using Overdrive – how do teens check out a book and get it on their device? There is nothing wrong with that. We do need to know the how.

    However, there is so much more to pay attention to related to what’s going on with ereading that if the focus becomes just the device and the circulation we are missing important opportunities. I equate this to teen librarians only focusing on the circ. system used for checking out physical books. But, with physical books there is a lot more than the circ. system that teen librarians pay attention to. For example, programs are developed related to books, series, genres or themes. Booklists and displays are developed around titles, themes, genres, and series. Collections are built to fit the needs of a specific teen community.

    How are you displaying ebooks and making sure that teens know what’s available? Are you looking at having programs based on what teens are reading digitally? How are you creating booklists that include or focus solely on ematerials? What about ematerial collection development? Are you integral in that process and making sure that teens are being collected for? It’s not just about download and check-out, there is much much more.

  • Part of the more is the lending clubs that are springing up for sharing of econtent. Now that both Nook and Kindle allow for lending, (ebook fling makes it possible to lend and borrow for different devices at one site.) people are posting on various sites what they have available to lend and those who are looking for a title to borrow are doing so through these sites.

    This is a new avenue for lending and borrowing that is very much worth paying attention to. Think about the teen that comes in looking for a title that is either out, missing, has a long hold list on it, or is just not available in the library (in either physical or digital form). What if the teen has a digital device that he or she could read on? You might say to the teen, “Do you want to see if the book is available for you to borrow from an elending site?” I look at this as a variation of A Miracle on 34th Street. You aren’t Santa Claus sending a customer to Gimbels. But, you are a librarian that is helping a teen to connect to the content he or she is looking for. And, ultimately, isn’t that what libraries and librarians are about? Making connections? Does it matter if it’s a book that the teen checks-out at the library or a book that he or she digitally borrows from someone not connected to the library? The connection to the content is the important part, right?

  • Reading is becoming more and more a social activity in the digital world. Last week I wrote about the Copia app that teens can use to take notes while reading, and even share those notes with friends, and perhaps have a conversation right inside a book. As librarians we need to become familiar with the different ways that teens are, and can, interact with content and not simply think of reading as a passive activity that is one person sitting down with a book. Even if the teens with whom you work aren’t yet in the social reading world, this is something to keep up on. You want to know about it before it hits big time. You want to be ready. That way you can provide advice and suggestions to teens about the tools to use to be smart and effective social readers.

Reading isn’t about the format the material is delivered in. It’s about learning and understanding and enjoyment and experience. Libraries aren’t about the physical materials. They are about making sure that people in the community connect to what they need to connect to – whether it be words or people or each other. The more that librarians serving teens grasp this, the more we’ll all be able to support teen reading needs no matter the format and no matter the access point.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

2 Thoughts on “28 Days of Teens & Tech #11: The State of Reading

  1. You raise some very important questions. I am very intrigued by this topic as a future librarian who loves her e-reader. Thank you for the insight into Copia app and ebook fling. I find it so difficult to keep up with the latest websites and apps because there are just too many of them!

  2. Clynell Reinschmiedt on March 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm said:

    I like very much that you are passionate about pursuing every path that will lead teens to reading. Bravo for that. But something about the implications behind the statement that, as librarians, we need to “…not simply think of reading as a passive activity that is one person sitting down with a book”. One person sitting down with a book is not a passive activity! I am opposed to technology for technology’s sake. Teens interacting with other teens about the books they are reading is marvelous, simply wonderful. But is it purposeful for teens to interact about what they are reading to the exclusion of the level of thinking that makes reading the unique, self-actualizing experience it can be? Taking out of context a passage of a book and tweeting about in some random, irrelevant way can reduce a book to a jumble of meaningless words. I am passionate about young adults, reading and young adult literature. I want my teens to read, read, read…in any format. But I also want them to be thoughtful readers. Will social reading grow thoughtful readers, or will social reading become like so much else that technology has become? Thoughtless, mimic activity? I’m aware of the exceptions…those who will interact meaningfully. But will that really be the norm? I think we need to remember we are librarians…not entertainers.

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