Sunday, April 16, 2006

Philosophical discussion on "Reading"

I'm blogging my response to Alice's (It's All Good) question, "What's considered Reading anymore?":
A few examples:

I find it quite an important question -- one that may impact on the role of libraries. Libraries and librarians often pride ourselves as champions of the reading habit. How libraries and librarians define and understand "reading" would determine what we do and how we see the profession developing.

Personally, in the context of today's Information Society, I think of "reading" as: The act of an individual transferring ideas and concepts [1], encrypted in some commonly understandable code [2], and which is contained in Information Containers [3], via their eyes to their conscious brain [4].

Just to clarify:
[1] - Ideas and concepts: This would mean more than text. It includes images, audio, or a combination

[2] - Commonly understandable code: Just my complicated way of saying a common language or common context (i.e. images, sounds)

[3] - Information Containers: This could be a printed book, an audio tape, a DVD, a webpage etc. Whatever materials, tools and technologies used to store and render the "ideas and concepts" in useable form.

[4] - Eyes to conscious brain: What I mean is that the "reading" is a conscious behaviour. The individual has to be an active participant. E.g. I sit down to watch a TV show, or listen to a CD, or read a book, or surf the net.

Of course realistically speaking, this is too broad a definition for libraries to adopt. Or is it?

Libraries in developed countries today are already providing their users access to more than just books (which is just one type of "Information Container"). They are helping customers get access to the Internet, to audio-visual materials. Just that right now, the "ideas and concepts" or information that the library chooses to acquire (for various reasons) use the printed book as the predominant format.

Alice also asks, "Can we still call our information consumers 'readers'". Well, I for one tend to use the term "Library Customer".

I think the real issue is one of "measurement" if we adopt a wider definition of "reading", but that's for another post.



  1. The whole issue can be resolved easily if we realize what the REAL product of our libraries is
    NOT books
    NOT information
    The REAL product of our libraries is ANSWERS--SOLUTIONS to the problems of our customers.

    The problem can be as simple as "I have a few minutes, where are the magazines?" or as complex as "I'm starting a business--what do I need to do?"

  2. Hi Mrs. OPL, I agree to a large extent about the real product/ service of the library. There can be other ways of positioning the library service and I don't think there's ever a right or wrong way. But what would be wrong is to ignore the changes and trends at large and still insist that "we've always done things this way and there's no need for change".

  3. Hmm, tricky definining reading so broadly. For one, I don't see watching TV as reading since it is not really active. You just sit there, and the content is thrown at you. If you are like many people, you may be multi-tasking such as surfing the web with the TV in the background (I do this quite a bit). I think the active element is the key: is the reader actively engaged with the text, or is he/she just passing through? Having said this, I don't mean reading is only books. Pictures, art, web pages can all be reading, as long as it is an active engagement. I may be making it a bit too narrow, but then again, coming from a teaching background, I see a clear difference between actually reading and just browsing.

    As for Ms. Opl above, why do we have to see the library as only the place for answers? Given people's preference to often get their answers from Google or a similar tool, it would seem libraries may not be the first place after all. Are we to abandon the notion that libraries are indeed for books and information as well as recreation? The fact that you pose that problem of a magazine for a few minutes versus starting a business seems to indicate a library does more than mere answers. It meets information needs in the case of the patron wanting the business information and likely pleasure needs for the patron asking for magazines. Anhyhow, just a thought. I just think we sell ourselves short if we abandon the "brand" of all we do because we may want to simply be seen as better than Google. Best, and keep on blogging.

    P.S. Found this post via the LISNews.

  4. Anonymous2:28 am

    An interesting quote from the if:book blog:

    "You have to be able to read and look at the same time, a trick not easily mastered, especially if you're someone who is used to reading fast. Graphic novels, or the good ones anyway, are virtually unskimmable. And until you get the hang of their particular rhythm and way of storytelling, they may require more, not less, concentration than traditional books." --Charles McGrath, NY Times Magazine


  5. I like to think that libraries give people equal and extended access to cultural product - be it "literature", light reading, Internet, music, DVD, Playstation games, information, etc. And thinking about your earlier post "Art Sunday: Green Plant", I think there may well be a role for libraries to give people equal access to the means for creating cultural product eg through blogs.


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