The Future of Reading: Thinking Ahead to the SLJ Summit

It’s already time for another conference – the School Library Journal Leadership Summit will take place over the next couple of days. I was surprised and thrilled to be invited to this event. As a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education, the conference theme “The Future of Reading” is of great interest to me on a number of levels.  Here are some of the questions and items that are on my mind right now, as I look through the exciting program, preparing for the conference and all the conversations we will have.

What does it mean to read online?

One of my main questions is, what does it mean to read online?  Although books are still important, it is clear that more and more of the reading we do is online – often filled with hyperlinks, dynamic content, and images. How do we read these emerging, often complex, genres?  I was thrilled to see that Don Leu, one of the leaders of the New Literacies Research Team, will be talking with us during the summit.  I heard another member of the New Literacies Research Team, Julie Coiro, speak last year about her research into online reading. I remember her talking about the way the dynamic and linked content can lead readers to be more active in interacting with the texts.  I also remember thinking (Coiro may have said this, actually) that this reading was almost a new form of co-authorship.  It’s nothing new to realize that our own experiences and traits as readers transact with texts, but online genres seem to invite active reading in new ways. And so, the question becomes, how to we properly read online texts?  Does that question even make sense?  Are we thinking about the different strategies readers need to evaluate and comprehend online texts? Of course, librarians have been thinking and teaching about evaluating all kinds of sources for years.  But I can’t help wondering if the preponderance of online reading that many students do leads to new questions and strategies we are only beginning to consider.

For example, Bud the Teacher blogged an excerpt from a post called the Rhetoric of the Hyperlink which offers some pretty amazing discussions of what hyperlinks are and how they function.  There is also a bit about the Kindle in the piece. As we become more and more accustomed to seeing different online texts, (while at the same time they become more and more complex), there is a lot to think about in terms of the way we read and write.

With changes in reading, what happens to writing?

The talk of co-authoring through linked reading and learning about hyperlinks reminds me that we cannot separate reading from writing. So, I am excited to see reading as the central topic for the summit, but to me the future of reading ties directly to writing.  I’ll admit that, in the past, I thought that reading was the primary skill and writing followed.  But after some study and spending a lot of time writing myself and with students, I see that the process works both ways.  Reading and writing are closely aligned and inform one another. I was reminded of a study I read called Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Carnegie Corporation. This report is linked here, in addition to others from the Carnegie Corporation. The SLJ Summit will also feature Andrés Henriquez, who works on the Carnegie Council for Advancing Adolescent Literacy.  I hope he will be sharing some of the insights from these reports and others in his talk.

What concerns about intellectual freedom emerge with new ways of reading?

With all the exciting aspects about the future of reading, I also have concerns.  I am sure there will be lots of talk at the summit about gadgets and apps that are intended for reading of different kinds.  I’ve been watching the discussions about many of the different e-readers with some interest. The discussions about ownership of digital materials and DRM are fascinating.  I also watched a talk by Ted Striphas brought some issues to light that I had not considered before.  (He has since released some written versions of this work, including E-Books: No friends of free expression.) Most interesting to me were the way data are collected from Kindles and the legal status of that data. I love the idea of social reading – to me that is such an incredible benefit of reading with technology. The chance to make reading more transparently and globally social is exciting. But, at the same time, Striphas’s arguments bring up some important concerns about privacy for readers, which I think we as librarians should consider. I haven’t thought through his arguments fully, but I hope we keep these concerns in mind as we continue to develop e-reading collections. How do our ongoing commitments to intellectual freedom wind through these new devices, genres, and reading practices?

What about the book?

In closing, I’ve got to admit that my own thoughts on reading have changed a lot over the past few years.  I’ll admit, I have been one of those people who cherish the physical product of a book – one of the “I-love-to-cuddle-up-with-a-book,”  “Books-have-such-a-great-smell,”  “The-tactile-experience-can’t-be-replaced” people.  (In some ways I still am). I’ll admit that I didn’t see the wrenching away of the ideas in the book from it’s physical form coming as quickly as it has. Well, maybe it hasn’t completely separated, but, as I flipped through the new issue of Real Simple yesterday, I came to a page that signaled to me that something big has changed.  Real Simple does regular features on “New Uses for Old Things” and they devoted a full page spread to how to repurpose books.  These involved cutting out words to make new sentences for an activity at the holiday kids table, ripping out pages and forming them into cones to look like festive trees, transforming the pages into bows for presents, and hollowing out pages to make an unexpected gift box.

(Image from Real Simple, November 2010)

One the one hand, I thought about all the kids who do not have books in their homes (not to mention strained library collection budgets) and thought – Don’t cut up your books for holiday decor – Donate the books to a library or charity! Please! But I also think that this page in Real Simple, a somewhat mainstream family magazine, says a lot about the role of books in our lives.  It is not that we don’t love or need books anymore, but their physical container isn’t as important as it once was. Books are not necessarily the cherished objects they used to be.  The content and the container are really beginning to fracture.  Now, we can read comics on our iPads, books on our smartphones, the list goes on…(I’m not sure what will happen to the picture book, but if you believe the New York Times people aren’t reading them as much anymore anyway, so perhaps it doesn’t matter). (And, for the record, I have issues with the NYT story, but I am not sure the reporting is wrong).

So, it should be an exciting few days to talk more about these issues and keep pushing toward the future of reading and the role librarians and libraries will play. I can’t wait to hear what others are thinking about. There are many other excellent speakers that I’ll be blogging and tweeting about this week. The conference hashtag is #sljsummit10.  I hope you’ll join in these exciting discussions.

(Now I am wondering how many of you actually made it to the end of this post, and how many are off following hyperlinks…)

1 Response to “The Future of Reading: Thinking Ahead to the SLJ Summit”

  1. 1 Donna Alvermann 11.15.2010 at 1:57 am

    I did read to the end, but I went back to reread the section on intellectual freedom. It spoke to me (somewhat) of Renee Hobbs’ latest book Copyright Clarity, and especially the concept that she introduces (and names) transformativeness). Would like to see you blog on Renee’s work sometime in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

recent tweets from librarybeth

my photos

%d bloggers like this: