Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 9, Number 5: April 2009


Writing about Reading 2

This time around, let’s set aside the Death of Serious Reading and look at some other reading-related topics. This edition may be more suitable to folks with short attention spans than Writing about Reading in the December 2008 Cites & Insights: It’s much shorter.

Different people approach reading and literacy in different ways—and few of us maintain one approach to reading everything. We’re reading in new ways, a trend that’s likely to continue—but there’s less evidence that we’re dropping the old ways. Whether it’s ebooks versus print books, online reading versus offline reading or new media versus old media, “versus” is a trap. As elsewhere, the new generally complements the old, supplanting it for those people and those circumstances where the new is clearly better. And your “better” may not be my “better.” For most developments, for most media, there’s room for both of us.

Aliteracy: Writing about Not Reading

Doug Johnson writes about “Libraries for a post-literate society” in a pair of posts at The blue skunk blog ( on August 13 and 14, 2008. Since I’m going to argue with Johnson, you should know that I admire Johnson’s writing and thinking, on a blog I discovered when I was doing The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008. It was my loss. But admiration doesn’t always mean agreement. Johnson begins with Steve Jobs’ fatuous remark, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” and goes from there to make his case that “libraries, if they are to remain vital, need to recognize and support a ‘post-literate’ society.” Excerpts with comments:

Next time you are returning to your seat from an airplane’s bathroom, do a quick scan over the shoulders of seated passengers. What are they doing?

If your observations are similar to mine, well over 50% of air travelers are listening to portable music devices, playing games on handhelds, working on presentation or spreadsheet files on laptops, or watching video on small players. Book readers today are the minority.

Honestly? Comparing my recent flights with those of a couple years ago, I don’t see a decline in reading. I rarely read books in flight; I read science fiction magazines. I see loads of magazine and newspaper readers, and plenty of book readers. Are they in the minority? Yes, and I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t true—even before laptops and multichannel entertainment systems provided more competition. (Admission: On Air Canada to and from Toronto, I spent as much time watching flicks on TV as I did reading magazines. That doesn’t make me postliterate or aliterate.)

Any number of recent studies are concluding that reading is declining. Not just any reading, but reading of novels and longer works of nonfiction. A range of pundits is remarking that online reading is changing their personal reading behaviors. As the Jobs quote above suggests, we are rapidly becoming a postliterate society.

We discussed some of those pundits and studies last time around. And yet…the numbers, the facts don’t support the doom crying, making “rapidly” a particularly questionable term. (If we’re really becoming postliterate, how come so many books on the topic get published?)

…I would…define the postliterate as those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming. Print for the postliterate is relegated to brief personal messages, short informational needs and other functional, highly pragmatic uses such as instructions, signage and organizational device entries or is highly supplemented by graphics. Their needs for extended works of information are met through visual and/or auditory formats.

I omitted the utopian Wikipedia definition; that’s another, probably very silly, discussion. (Hey, let’s make a movie defining your mortgage details fully…)

…While many adults exhibit postliterate behaviors, the “Net Generation” is its poster child…

The term “postliterate library” may at first look seem like an oxymoron. But it is not. Our best libraries are already postliterate, increasingly serving sets of users who communicate, recreate and learn using media other than print. And the attitude we as professional librarians adopt toward the postliterate may well determine whether our libraries continue to exist.

Two issues here. One, there’s a whole lot of text that isn’t print, including long form text. More importantly, I would argue that the “Net Generation” and others do continue to read, including books—they just have access to a richer array of media (text and otherwise) than some of us older types did.

Education and librarianship have a bias toward print. This communication/information format that has served society well and in which most professionals now demonstrate high levels of proficiency is expected to be vociferously defended…

But I would argue that postliteracy may be a return to more natural forms of communication—speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate and dramatization. It is just now that these modes can be captured and stored digitally as (or more) easily as writing. And information, emotion and persuasion may be even more powerfully conveyed in multi-media formats.

I agree: For many purposes, multimedia beats straight text. But that doesn’t lead to “postliteracy”—to a wholesale abandonment of print—any more than providing two dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the grocery store means nobody buys beefsteak tomatoes.

What do you see as critical attributes of a library that serves a postliterate clientele?

It’s always tricky to ask for comments, but Johnson has an active readership (averaging 5.4 comments per post in March-May 2008, a very high figure for liblogs) and got them, 12 to date. “Beth” offers an excellent response (in part):

I wouldn’t say “postliterate” so much as multiliterate. Print literacy is simply one among many ways of being literate. Libraries are great in that we can offer access to all kinds of literacies—we act as a literacy gateway… Print isn’t dead, and I don’t think it will be going away any time in the future. But I do think you are right about library bias toward print and that focusing on print to the exclusion of other formats does not serve students well…

“To the exclusion of”? I’d agree. That’s a mistake, for school libraries (Johnson’s field) or public libraries. As one principal focus? That’s different.

“Jane in NYC,” in a fairly long comment, makes a point we too often forget when people are lamenting the loss of the Good Old Days when Everybody Read Serious Literature:

Part of me wants to say that without [slow silent reading] we can’t or won’t take the time to get deeply into a subject or into reflection on life. Another part—the modern librarian part—recognizes that this kind of reading is, to use a phrase from C. S. Lewis, a “minority enthusiasm,” and that lots of people just do not relate to the world through in-depth reading. These people can be brilliant and competent and very successful and whatever else you want.

There are a range of comments discussing audiobooks, various forms of literacy and more. Amy Thornton notes, among other things:

I don’t think the idea of curling up with books is completely lost on the NetGeneration...I’m not officially part of that generation, but I’m not too far off (will be 30 in a couple of weeks) and I have always enjoyed reading (print) books. I still prefer it over watching or listening to something on my iPod, DVD player, computer, etc. I do think that libraries have to keep up with the technology as well, but I hope that we are a long way from giving up the printed word.

Johnson believes that the percentage of people who do still like to read “seems to be declining.” I question that—but not his conclusion: “We need to provide services and resources for [those for] whom print is not a first choice. And not feel we are doing a disservice to education or society by doing so.” Absolutely.

In the second post, Johnson offers ten possible hallmarks of a “postliterate library”:

1. PL libraries budget, select, acquire, catalog and circulate as many or more materials in nonprint formats as they do traditional print materials. The circulation policy for all materials is similar.

2. PL libraries stock without prejudice age-appropriate graphic and audiobook novels and nonfiction for both informational and recreational use.

3. PL libraries support gaming for both instruction and recreation.

4. PL libraries purchase high-value electronic information resources.

5. PL libraries provide resources for patrons to create visual and auditory materials and promote the demonstration of learning and research through original video, audio and graphics production—and physical spaces for the presentation of these creations.

6. PL libraries allow the use of personal communication devices (mp3 players, handhelds, laptops, etc.) and provide wireless network access for these devices.

7. PL library programs teach the critical evaluation of non-print information.

8. PL library programs teach the skills necessary to produce effective communication in all formats.

9. PL library programs accept and promote the use of non-print resources as sources for research and problem-based assignments.

10. PL librarians recognize the legitimacy of non-print resources, and promote their use without bias.

As an unregenerate book reader (but not book lover: I don’t collect them), there are five words in that decade that I find questionable: “as many or more materials” in #1. I would respond—at least for public libraries and probably for school libraries as well—in two ways: First, that really should depend in part on your patrons. Second, there are so many sources of nontext material (including nonprint) that I think a case can be made that libraries should, to some extent, favor the proven carrier of culture through the generations.

Otherwise, I’m on board—but I don’t believe it has much to do with postliteracy. As Johnson says, “We cannot ignore the society of which we are a part—and are charged with supporting. I believe culture determines library programs, not that libraries create the culture.” (I’m not sure why this followup post, which also ended with some questions, failed to draw any substantive comments.)

To read or not to read

That’s the title Wayne Bivens-Tatum used for an August 13, 2008 post on Academic librarian (blogs.prince­ (Hmm. Note the same date. Synchronicity? Coincidence? Intergalactic conspiracy? It was, after all, a Wednesday the 13th.) Some of what he has to say:

I seem to be reading a lot lately about how people don’t read anymore, especially these young people. On my recent flights, there sure seemed to be a lot of people reading books, but maybe airline travel is restricted to the especially literate…

It’s a good thing I’m not worried about the kids not reading today, because I’m putting together my syllabus for my writing seminar, which begins all too soon. The reading list isn’t especially heavy in terms of page count. I always considered such courses torture because I’m such a slow reader. In a Victorian novel course I took in graduate school, I’m not sure I finished any of the novels except The Mill on the Floss, and that’s because I had to present on it. It seemed I’d get a third of the way through one of Dickens’ interminable tomes and we’d start on yet another one. Even The Mill on the Floss I had to read so quickly I remember almost nothing about it. I think someone dies.

…If the prevailing views of students are correct, whatever are we to do with them? Just now I was trying to decide between a Philip Pettit or a Quentin Skinner essay to represent the republican position. I decided on both, but if these kids today don’t read, perhaps I should just teach neither. Perhaps we should abandon research and writing altogether. Why bother if the kids are so incorrigibly dumb?...

The touchstone of the new aliteracy for some seems to be that the kids today aren’t reading literature anymore. Capital L Literature apparently used to be important to the culture, and everyone who was anyone ran around discussing T.S. Eliot or Allen Ginsberg while drinking cocktails or smoking pot (respectively), or ruminating on the supposed complexities of Beckett or Sartre. The kids just don’t do this anymore, and it bothers some people.

Let’s hope the students get a smattering of great literature during their college years, but otherwise, is it so bad if they don’t read novels for fun? Some of them no doubt will go on to be the educated intellectual types who will lament for the future because the next generation will be so ill read. But if most of them grow up reading nothing more substantial than news or blogs or the occasional magazine, will they be that much different from how most people have always been? Did we ever really live through some literary golden age when masses of people read more not because it was what they wanted to do but because there wasn’t much else to do?

The nineteenth century in England and America seemed to be a relatively literate time, but was there not perhaps a large difference between those who for enjoyment read the John Stuart Mill or Matthew Arnold and those who read the serial installments of The Old Curiosity Shop and flocked to Dickens’ celebrity tours of America? When literature was entertainment, were we any better off as a society? Now that literature is less popular, doesn’t there still seem to be a lot of reading going on? And is the person who daily consumes another genre novel somehow more critical and analytical than the rest of us, more fit to be a citizen than those who skim headlines on Google News or read political blogs?...

I wonder about that last paragraph. Did we actually have a higher percentage of literature readers—or is it just that only the upper class (and emerging class), the literate minority, are remembered? I strongly suspect that the latter is true; after all, near-universal ability to read books is pretty much a 20th century phenomenon.

Sidebar: Good writing encourages serious reading

T. Scott Plutchak discusses “saying what you mean” in a June 19, 2008 post at T. Scott ( It’s not directly about aliteracy or book reading, but he does decry cases where people discuss a term and don’t seem to care whether the term has a commonly-agreed meaning, and also the attitudes of bloggers (like me, I guess) who post very rough drafts.

…I first began to appreciate the beauty and critical importance of sentences from reading the great short story artist Harold Brodkey, who was absolutely manic and obsessive in his devotion to getting each sentence right—the right words, the right tone, the right balance, the right music. All of those carry meaning, and if one element is off, the writing fails.

As an editor, one of my roles was to pay a lot of attention to sentences. I recall many instances where I would spend a considerable amount of time on a single paragraph, going over it again and again, trying to sort out exactly what the author was really trying to say. The challenge…was to come up with alternatives that maintained the tone and voice of the author, while clarifying and conveying the actual meaning. It would be easy enough to rewrite it to sound like me—but I always wanted it to sound like the original writer. That’s what makes an editor.

Those who see “publishing” as simply a matter of doing some kind of peer review, clarifying some of the facts & conclusions, and then putting things up on a website, miss the importance of that kind of editing. A well edited article carries the reader along--it feels effortless. Without it, reading becomes a chore. How many ideas never get the distribution that they deserve because the prose they’re encased in makes reading just too damn much work?...

As I grow older, the notion of “story” becomes increasingly important to me. I was talking to someone about the presentation that I was working on for Scotland. “I’ve got the arc of the story figured out, now it’s just a matter of pulling together the images that I want to illustrate it, and making sure the transitions work the way that I want them to.” I always think of a presentation as telling a story, as having a plot, as requiring a certain flow to take the listener from beginning to end. The Post writer makes the point, “The sentence itself is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something happens in a sentence.”

Irrelevant to this discussion? Maybe, maybe not. I wrote the first comment:

An eloquent post. I should read it once a week and try to improve my own sentences. Thanks.

As readers can no doubt guess, I’ve failed in that resolution—and, frankly, I’m probably better at editing other people (on PLN) than at editing my own work (here and on my blog).

Setting aside comments on a different issue (not mentioned here), it’s interesting to see an exchange about blog writing. First, Marcus Banks (whose posts are frequently quite well written):

For my own blog posts, I have a different standard. I strive not to spout off gibberish, but more casualness feels OK. If somebody uses their blog to “think out loud” and states as much, what’s wrong with that? As long as you know their intent, you know how to read it.

And Plutchak’s response:

“Casualness” is great. I’m all for it. And certainly one of the great things about blogs is that you can use them in whatever way you want—including “thinking out loud.” But then people should not be surprised if they’re misunderstood or if someone challenges them on the grounds of what they actually said, as opposed to what they think they thought they were trying to say.

That last sentence is critical—and I can tell you people will not only be surprised but in some cases deeply offended if you read what they say, as opposed to what they later claim they intended. The term “charitable reading” gets tossed around at times, and it’s a dangerous term.

How closely is this related to supposed aliteracy? There is a relationship. Close reading and careful writing involve a precision that’s frequently harder to obtain (and a lot easier to obscure) in nontext environments. On the other hand, it’s a lot harder to make a polished, well-edited, communicative movie than it is to write a polished, well-edited article (or book).

Online and Print Reading

You could make a good case that this topic—online reading compared to offline/print reading—belongs with comments on slow reading, which should appear in a future edition. That may be true, in which case you can think of these comments as a warmup for that edition—and, in some cases, as followup to the first Writing about Reading.

Online and print reading

Marcus Banks discusses this in a July 27, 2008 post at Marcus’ world ( He begins by discussing “Literacy debate: Online, R U really reading?” from the July 27, 2008 New York Times. It’s a long, complicated piece, complete with remarkably vapid and predictable doomsday quotes from then-NEA chair Dana Gioia and a whole lot more. You can still find the article online; I won’t go through it separately. Some of what Banks has to say about the article and his thoughts on the matter—beginning with the beginning, because it’s too good to pass up:

I started the day by reading the Times article…online. It’s pretty long, and soon I became distracted. Later, at lunch, I picked right up where I had left off with the print version of the paper. With the glorious boundaries of print at my disposal, I was able to finish. Given the context, this sequence of events was amusing, and it just goes to prove that I’m not so young anymore.

It may also suggest that it’s easier to focus on lengthy text in print form than online—regardless of age.

I grew up reading lots of books, and am still predisposed to think that “serious” reading is done in print. But that’s not as true as it once was, and will be ever less the case as time goes by. The article documents a debate between traditionalists who think that reading comprehension should only be measured on the basis of print texts, and reformers who want to start measuring online reading comprehension. I hope the reformers prevail…

So do I—and so, I believe, should anyone who cares about literacy. Comprehension is comprehension, whether it comes from a 4x6 text block on a 6x9 printed page or the text on a screen—or, for that matter, an audiobook. While I don’t believe print is going away, I certainly don’t believe online reading is going away. To ignore it or treat it as useless is absurd.

Nobody is defending the glory of printouts, but there’s some evidence that online reading works better for some readers than reading print… [Cites a dyslexic reader who appears to learn better online.]

Wouldn’t it be odd if it wasn’t true that online reading worked better for some readers? Much as I detest universalisms about everything going digital or the death of traditional media, reverse universalisms—”you really only learn from great books”—are just as detestable and counterproductive.

Another benefit of online reading, for all readers, is the immediate exposure it provides to multiple viewpoints. With a book, at the moment you are reading it, you can only engage with one text at a time. Online the world of information is literally at your disposal. This doesn’t mean that people always seek out multiple viewpoints, and of course it’s possible to simply fritter away time online. But engaged online reading, which is something that teachers could model and promote, could have many benefits.

The flip side is that, by and large, that engagement may be shallower than when focusing on a single text—and that’s as much a multitasking/task-switching issue as it is a question of medium. That really does get into slow reading.

Print still works well… But holding the line for the virtues of print to the exclusion of online virtues is folly…

Agreed. Here Banks introduces a different topic (one I’ve avoided in C&I to date), making a valuable point:

Librarians have a role here; the article reinforces the well-known fact that people are generally not good at evaluating the trustworthiness of online information. This is what all those librarian information literacy campaigns seek to combat, so we need to keep at it…

[R]ather than offering up a checklist of web site attributes, we should promote beneficial online behaviors: linking to sources whenever possible, demonstrating an attempt to seek out multiple viewpoints, etc. Sometimes the best source will be a blog…and that’s just fine. My guess is that the number of times in which a blog will prove most beneficial in understanding a problem will only increase. The goals of critical thinking and close reading are what will always be important, however people choose to read.

Is close reading (similar to slow reading) harder to do online? Maybe, for most people; I’d say probably, for many people. Is it impossible or unimportant? No.

reading offline, reading online

Laura Crossett posted this on November 23, 2008 at lis.dom ( It is, to some extent, a followup on the previous Writing about Reading:

…The most recent C&I contains an essay…called “Writing about Reading” and it takes a good long look at the National Endowment for the Arts studies of recent years that claim to show there is a Drastic and Dire Crisis in this country because Nobody Reads Anymore.

The omitted part is partly about the difficulties of reading C&I online, difficulties that are partly specific to C&I and my own laziness.

As you may gather by my use of sarcastic capitalization, I am unimpressed with the arguments the NEA makes on this count. If you’re in any sort of business that deals with books and learning and reading, you’ve probably heard a good deal of talk about how the web has decimated people’s ability to do sustained reading of complex texts. Nicholas Carr—or his headline writers—have gone so far as to wonder if the internet is making us stupid.

I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I don’t think I’m any stupider than I was before.

Actually, in some ways, I think I’m smarter.

I’m almost certain I’m smarter now than I was before I started using the internet. Am I as steeped in deep textual understanding? A tougher question.

…When I first started moseying around the web, I was baffled. I’d get to a page of text, and I’d start reading the text, and then there’d be a hyperlink — usually in the middle of a sentence!—and I had to figure out what to do. Should I continue reading the rest of the sentence and then go back to the hyperlink? Should I click the hyperlink in the middle of reading the sentence? And then when I got to the page that the link led to, what was I supposed to do?... It was confusing and made for an unsettled and unsatisfying reading experience. I met a guy at the college radio station that year who said he was working on the Great American Hypertext, and I thought, Dear God, please tell me I will never have to read such a thing.

Flash forward about a decade, and I’m sitting at my old job reading my feeds and I come across [a] post by Steve Lawson, in which he talks about how he expects to be able to link to things when he’s writing.:.

On the other hand, I’d still have the same reaction to someone who says they’re working on the Great American Hypertext—and my experience with articles and fiction designed as hypertext (as opposed to those that use hyperlinks as, in effect, expandable footnotes) is almost wholly negative and befuddling.

…In the last few papers I wrote for library school, I constantly found myself wishing I could just link some text instead of inserting a footnote. The link would take people directly to the thing I was talking about. The footnote could help them get there, but it wasn’t immediate, and how often do you go track down the source mentioned in a footnote? I’ve done it, but it is increasingly a hassle.

When did I go from “OMG how can I possibly take in all the information in this document and all its links?” to “that is totally the way to read—and write—everything?”

I’m not sure. But it is clear to me that when we talk about the web taking away the ability to do sustained reading of complex texts (and I think the jury’s still out on that one), we neglect to consider the skills that the web has led us to develop. It is useful—and becoming essential—to be able to read a hyperlinked text, to be able to bounce around from screen to screen, to skim a document and find out if it’s something you need to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest or something you just need to get the gist of.

Here I will partially take issue with Crossett. Not with the last sentence but with the middle paragraph (where I suspect Crossett’s overstating for effect). I don’t believe online documents with hyperlinks are “totally the way to read—and write—everything,” not by a long shot. (If I did, I’d obviously give up on C&I and my magazine columns, not to mention books.) I do believe that hyperlinks get in the way of narrative, at least to some extent, and that narrative is important for sustained argumentation as well as long-form entertainment.

…I don’t mean to dismiss close reading or slow reading: I still think both are still important and have a place. But we live in a world in which so much text is produced on an hourly basis that you simply could not take it all in… You have to figure out how to filter it—how to get what you need, how to find the bits you want to go back to. If bouncing from document to document is a sign of stupidity, then yes, the web has made me stupid. But I wish that the doomsayers would, rather than simply lamenting the skills they believe we have lost, look at the skills we have gained.

It’s been a long time since anybody could take in all the text that was produced, even in their own area—and I think we need filtering methods above and beyond bouncing from document to document. So, I think, does Crossett. I may disagree with some particulars, but not with the heart of this essay.

Unlike Banks’ post, this one drew comments. (You really can’t predict when posts will and won’t draw comments, with certain exceptions.) Mark Lindner noted that he does follow some footnotes—and that footnotes and hyperlinks are related but serve different purposes. I thanked Lindner for calling my 12,000-word essay “a lot of fun” and noted the attempts at hypertext essays and fiction I’d read: “‘not pretty’ is a kind way of putting it.” Crossett clarified that she was offering “and not or”—”What I wanted to say, really, is that online reading and the kind of skipping around it involves is not necessarily bad, just different.”

The now-liminal status of the printed word

While that’s the title of Rachel Singer Gordon’s January 19, 2009 post at The liminal librarian,, she’s quoting another doom-and-gloom article, this one from The New Atlantis. That article—5,600 words of sans serif in its online form, although there’s a nicely-done serif PDF version—treats the NEA reports as gospel and closes with this threnody (which Gordon quotes):

Such is the end of the tragedy we are now witness to: Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information. All in the name of progress.

Again, I won’t go through the whole article—Gordon’s done that, and as I skim the original I’m not encouraged to study it deeply. Gordon says “There’s so much to take issue with in this mish-mosh of an article that one hardly knows where to begin.” I’m inclined to believe her.

There’s enough good stuff in this post for me to suggest that you go read the whole thing (good advice for every post I cite, to be sure). Gordon cites Poynter Institute studies suggesting that, for those articles people actually choose to read online, they may read them more thoroughly than they read print newspapers (which, admittedly, are a peculiar category of print reading). She notes the wildly different lessons people have drawn from the various NEA reports. She concludes (after one of those quotes about Socrates’ worry that writing lessened memory):

Yes, gloom and doom scenarios are nothing particularly new. Just as writing enabled the creation of that larger pool of knowledge, though, the content creation tools of the read/write Web (and the interactivity it invites) similarly enable the creation of a new pool of knowledge, a new collective wisdom to draw upon. We may not know exactly where this all leads us, but we can explore the possibilities — speaking of being in a liminal state.

I would add that the new content creation tools do not replace the old tools; they complement them. We’re not “replacing” print literacy with either “a vague and ill-defined screen savvy” or, well, literacy; we’re adding new tools, new media, new ways of understanding and communicating. They’re not the same, and all have their advantages. Since we don’t have to abandon one for the other (and, by all real-world measures, aren’t doing so in general), it’s all good.

My new perspective on reading

This take is by Michelle McLean, posted January 14, 2009 at Connecting librarian ( She found the subject of reading coming to the fore, thanks to a post by Kathryn Greenhill (which should appear in a future essay), my essay—and an Australian story claiming that “news consumers” are moving away from newspapers and TV to the internet. (McLean’s Australian; the spelling in what follows is correct in that version of “English.”)

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 four 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 it’s been around for decades, almost as long as the internet, but it was only then that I found something of interest to me….

Fan fiction has been around much longer than the internet, actually, but McLean’s young. Fan fiction’s been around longer than I have: It’s older than the hills. McLean goes on to say how much she’s finding it acceptable to read fanfic online, and more:

…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.,,

Libraries in the last decade, but definitely in recent years, have been placing more of an emphasis on reader development…. I am all for it.

[But] 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…

While part of me says reading may not be entirely format-neutral, a bigger part believes “reader development”—encouraging literacy and thoughtful reading—should absolutely encompass more than print.

Closing this edition

Books aren’t disappearing any time soon. Neither is the concept and practice of slow, focused reading. It may be true that focused reading of long texts works best with printed texts; that might be an astonishingly difficult thesis to test, one way or another.

What is certainly true, I believe, is that most of us read in many different ways for many different purposes. And that most of us gain information, knowledge and wisdom from material read on the screen, not only from print stuff.

It’s silly to say online reading isn’t really reading. It’s equally silly to say that print, books, magazines, whatever is or should be obsolete. It’s absurd to suggest that people have, in general, lost their ability to focus or pay attention to long narratives or deep arguments.

I don’t believe we’re becoming aliterate in any sense—whether print or online. I strongly suspect that most educated adults read more now than they did a decade ago, with a hefty portion of that reading being online. But reading and media aren’t politics: Being a minority doesn’t mean you’re irrelevant.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 9, Number 5, Whole Issue 115, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2009 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.