Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

As the Book Changes Form the Library Must Champion Its Own Power Base: Readers

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

As the Book Changes Form the Library Must Champion Its Own Power Base: Readers

Article excerpt

Reports of the death of reading are premature because readers are resilient and innovative. Librarians must therefore encourage experimentation in reading. They need to cleave to the needs and wants of readers and continue to study their reading habits, and design their content collections, systems, and services to help them improve and maximize their reading experiences.

Copyright 2009, reprinted with permission of 'Library journal', Reed Information, a division of Reed Elsevier.


The future of reading is very much in doubt. In this century, reading could soar to new heights or crash and burn. Some educators and librarians fear that sustained reading for learning, for work, and for pleasure may be slowly dying out as a widespread social practice. Only at living history farms will we see people reading. For decades the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has been studying the reading habits of adult Americans, issuing a series of reports with rousingly alliterative titles such as Reading at risk (July 2004) and Reading on the rise (January 2009). Sometime in the 21st century, the NEA may need to issue the sobering final report in the series Reading, rest in peace.

Several social and technological developments of the 20th century, such as television, electronic games, and even comic books, have been generally perceived as threats to literacy and the practice of reading. For some reading purists even the growing popularity of ebooks and audiobooks is a signal that the end of real, true reading is near.

On the other hand computer information networks and new personal, portable electronic reading appliances--Kindle is the current darling--may result in an innovative, longterm growth in reading. Never before has so much reading material been so easily and quickly available to so many people. If reading founders, it will not be because of a dearth of things to read.

Reading also entails an economy. Incredibly, the publishing industry currently is experiencing as much Sturm und Drang as housing and the job market. As Kindle versions outsell hardcover editions of some best sellers, the publishing industry, hot on the heels of the music and movie industries, is scrambling to envision and develop a model that will actually work. Libraries are feeling the heat too, because many of these early ereading platforms, which combine a large online bookstore, a rapid and easy to use distribution system, and a portable reading device into a complete reading experience, seem to be eliminating libraries from the equation.

Clearly something important and fundamental is happening to books and reading. Libraries need to be part of this reading revolution, supporting and defending the rights of digital readers, experimenting with new reader services, collecting new genres and media formats, and providing access for all readers to the devices, networks, content, and online communities that will continue to emerge.

Power base trumps brand

Books are the primary brand of libraries. Perceptions of libraries and information resources, the 2005 OCLC report on an extensive survey of thousands of library users, notes 'Roughly 70 per cent of respondents, across all geographic regions and US age groups, associate library first and foremost with books. There was no runner up'. Brands are wonderful to create, nurture, and protect, but for any institution its power base ultimately trumps brand. If push comes to shove, and it is about to, my advice is to cling to your power base--readers--not your brand. Granted, most libraries will serve anyone, including people looking to verify a fact, people looking for a job (recently a major population served by many public libraries), and even the homeless just looking for a place to get in out of the weather, be it hot or cold.

Because readers are atomized and disorganized as a power bloc, librarians must continue serving as clear, organized, professional advocates for them. …

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