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(2012) - Library High Tech News - Hot off the Press (4) - Digital Reading

in  LHTN, Vol. 29, Issue 7, Oct. 2012       

Hot off the Press! is a column dedicated to new trends and tendencies in information technologies and social networking with a note of the items' value to technologies in libraries. Also mentioned in the column are new books on topics such as mobile computing, social networking, and even novels with a focus on technology. Also highlighted are some technology blogs, websites, archived webinars, movies with a technology theme, and more.

The main topics of this issue are about digital reading, e-books, booksellers, the future of books [...] and libraries of course!

Decline of reading or new attitudes in reading?

Is reading declining? The answer is yes if we consider surveys of cultural practices[1]: each decade, the number of readers of books diminishes drastically, and these readers are getting older. But this vision is misleading because it takes into account traditional reading on a traditional media, the printed book. How can we see the digital revolution? Our environment is always more multimedia, its access is conditioned by metadata, standards and formats. Besides, search engines make it possible to access records of multiple types.

What is reading today? Claire Bélisle in her book "From Paper to Screen: the Book Transformation" (Bélisle, 2011) explores this reality from concepts such as time, the capacity of attention, and the pleasure of reading. Today, however, the main characteristic of reading is that it is inherently dynamic. Some research has already reported acceleration of the ability to read from reading aloud to internal and silent reading. Now acceleration is due first and foremost to technological innovations: the screen of a computer or a tablet or a mobile phone gives immediate access to an infinite text.

We hear and read that new generations are impatient, they maintain attention for a limited time to the same thing (Koutropoulos, 2011). But this finding is mainly linked to traditional academic practice, which requires a long period of concentration on the same document. Moving from one fragment of text to another does not necessarily mean a compelling need to move on, but is another form of concentration and is much more interactive. Reading then induces an action, such as in these novels where the user participates in the construction of the narrative by jumping from one page to another based on his answer to the questions asked. Reading on the Internet is a totally different way of reading when for example, and several tabs are opened in connection with basic text: a historic data, a character mentioned, the definition of an unknown word [...].

Even writing on the internet is a different experience: the example of NaNoWriMo is significant too. NaNoWriMo is the "National Novel Writing Month"[2], an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November each year. Despite the name, it accepts entries from around the world. The project started in July 1999 with just 21 participants, but by the 2010 event over 2,00,000 people took part - writing a total of over 2.8 billion words.

These examples show that adding words, aggregating content, giving more information or details are possibilities, and texts are enriched by reading and writing on the internet.

Points of view about digital reading are multiple: is digital reading a pleasure? Let's take a look now at Richard Stallmann's thinking.

Reading: an unlimited pleasure?

When one reads a funny story, it remains in mind, whether it is on paper or on a screen. If we speak of intimacy between the reader and the story, characters and situations that surround his imagination, it is often very dependent on a situation of comfort (reading in the living room, in bed) and a tablet can fully replace a book. Do we speak of intellectual pleasure in following the development of an idea, or understanding reasoning? There also the technological distinction is not significant.

In a recent interview[3], Richard Stallman explains his vision of digital reading. For those who do not know him, R. Stallman, according to Wikipedia[4] "is an American software freedom activist and computer programmer. In September 1983, he launched the GNU Project to create a free Unix-like operating system, and he has been the project's lead architect and organizer. With the launch of the GNU Project, he initiated the free software movement in October 1985 he founded the Free Software Foundation".

You may agree or not with Stallman's assertions, but it is interesting to consider his point of view. Answering a question about "the importance of digital reading for the future of the book,", he replies that digital books are a threat to the traditional liberties of  readers. The best example is the Kindle tablet from Amazon, which attacks these traditional freedoms. To acquire a copy of a work, the right to anonymity by, for example, cash payment is not possible. Amazon keeps track of what users have read [...] There is also no freedom to give, lend or sell the books to someone else. But Amazon eliminates these freedoms by the Kindle digital handcuffs and its disregard for private property. For example, Amazon said that the user may not have a copy of the book, he may only have a license to read a copy of the book under conditions that are imposed. This case is very well-known in libraries with licensed electronic resources which do not belong anymore to the library itself.

There is also the freedom to keep books and transmit them to children for example. But still, Amazon eliminates this possibility by a
backdoor in the Kindle, which has been used in 2009 to remove thousands of copies of licensed copies of Orwell's 1984 ....

What about booksellers? The future of books

A lot of people are involved in the production and the selling of traditional books, for instance the publishers, printers, and
booksellers; more often, we consider our point of view as librarians as that of book providers. But what about booksellers themselves? How do they face the challenge of digital books? Hannah Ryu Chung is the author of a lyrical student documentary untitled "Epilogue"[5] about the future of books: the documentary features a number of interviews with independent bookstore owners, magazine art directors, printers, bookbinders, letterpress artists, and other champions of bibliophilia.

Most of the conversations are about the love of the printed book, spoken with enthusiasm and genuine passion, but without vision of what is the digital world. There is practically no exploration about how the love of printed books can live and thrive online. This is a big difference with libraries. The most urgent thing that booksellers face is what to read and, above all, why to read. As Brian Morgan from Walrus Magazine says,"I feel like the central role of the bookseller has not changed; the central role of the bookseller is curatorial and I feel, if anything, the intervening years have increased that role in terms of importance." But, increasingly, these decisions - what to read - are now being made online by customers. They order online and can access digital books on their tablets. Booksellers could improve curation online and develop this expertise through the Internet.


All Jean-Jacques Rousseau now digital

The Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), author of "The Confessions", and of articles in The Encyclopedie, had a major influence on The French Revolution with the concept of democracy. You can now find all of his works online at:  www.rousseauonline.ch/: this site provides access to all Rousseau's works in their first editions in 17 volumes, i.e. 9,000 pages, verified by the author and published in Geneva (Switzerland) between 1780 and 1789.

The texts are freely available online and free of charge for download in different formats. Mobile readers (on smartphones or tablets) can choose the Epub format. Others will choose the PDF format for reading or printing. It is published under the Creative Commons license. Bibliographic notes are included. Each page number is connected by hyperlink to a high definition image from the original page. You can freely navigate into the digital texts and images of the eighteenth century edition. This is a real advantage for researchers and academic experimentation.

This digital edition of the complete works of Rousseau on the web has several objectives:

  • Give free access to his works to a worldwide audience.

  • Offer a variety of formats for contemporary reading.

  • Value cultural heritage with digital technologies.

rousseauonline.ch was made possible by the collaboration of Professor Joseph Gallanar, the sites  www.infoclio.ch (a digital infrastructure for the historical sciences in Switzerland) and  www.e-rara.ch (a platform of digitized Swiss manuscripts).

Libraries, patrons, and e-books

About "Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012," the American Library Association and the Information Policy & Access Center (University of Maryland), June 19, 2012.

For more information, please visit:  www.ala.org/research/plftas/2011_2012

ALA published this survey last June, and below is listed a summary of the most relevant results.

In this research, ALA reports that "12% of readers of e-books borrowed an e-book from the library in the past year. But a majority of
Americans do not know that this service is  provided by their local library." Most e-book borrowers say libraries are very important to them and their families and they are heavy readers in all formats, including books they bought and books lent to them. E-book borrowers say they read an average of 29 books in the past year, compared with 23 books for readers who do not borrow e-books from a library.

Some 58 percent of those ages 16 and older have a library card, and 69 percent report that the library is important to them and their
family. Women, whites, and parents of minor children are more likely to have library cards than other groups, and having a library card is also strongly correlated with educational attainment: 39 percent of those who have not completed high school have a library card, compared with 72 percent of those with at least a college degree. Those living in households making less than $30,000 per year, those living in rural areas, and adults ages 65 and older are less likely than other groups to have a library card.

Book-borrowing habits are changing. Some of the most avid library users report they are going to library branches less and using the
library web site more for book and audio downloads. Additionally, patrons' browsing is moving from in-library catalogs to online searches of library websites. As a result, "routine" traditional library interactions between patrons and librarians are receding in some places as interactions shift to online communications and downloads. In this environment, librarians' roles are changing. They now provide their users with much more "tech-supports" than before: hardware or software needs, searching on the web, and training about social media. It means that librarians have to be up to date about new web applications.

What could libraries be in the near future?

The survey concludes asking this question to patrons and librarians but, of course, answers show how it is fairly uncertain how libraries would function in the future. Who can predict the future of libraries? Answers give some trends or opinions: the evolution of e-book reading and digital content is a good thing for libraries, and for reading in general. Significant changes are inevitable; readers' romance with printed books will persist. What is interesting too is the mention by the patrons of their need for more public meeting-rooms and learning spaces ... Did you say digital?

See "Cultural Diversity in Quebec":  www.diversite-culturelle.qc.ca/index.php?id=105&L=1&tx_bulletinsirre_pi2%5Barticle%5D=8589 or "Cultural Practices in France":  www.pratiquesculturelles.culture.gouv.fr/doc/08synthese.pdf





Jean-Philippe Accart, cop. 2013


Bélisle, C. (2011), "Du papier à l'écran: livre se transforme", in Bélisle, C. (dir.), Lire dans un monde numérique, Presses de l'Enssib, Villeurbanne, pp. 111-62

Koutropoulos, A. (2011), "Digital natives: ten years after", Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 7 No. 4, available at:  http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/koutropoulos_1211.htm





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