To read or not to read….

ophelia

A short time ago in the New York Times, Steve Jobs discussed the questionable success of products like the Kindle. From the Times:

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

This isn’t some hidden fact that Jobs pulled out of a marketing campaign. In general, one need only look around and see how little people actually read. Of course when we say “read” we tend to mean reading a piece of literature in a codex form whose author is a recognized figure. More and more individuals have developed the ability to “cherry-pick” the small information snippets they need or to receive a summary from a third-party source. This combined with our culture’s obsession with information overload, media culture, and digital illiteracy trends; make for a questionable market for e-readers.

Yes, the Kindle may be an exciting new tool for librarians and tech-junkies, but what is the likelihood that a teenager is going to put this on their wishlist? It stands to reason that John Q. Public isn’t going to browse the selections of downloadable e-books if he is equally absent from browsing for his own personal reading selections. Jobs’ point is dead-on from the perspective of a business man–why build the next new widget if only a small percentage of the market picked up a widget this fiscal year? So what does this mean in the library world?

Looking at trends such as this, I am concerned for the nature of what we do. We continue to instill information literacy concepts and proper research methods; but all too often we don’t seem to inspire a love of “reading.” On the flip-side, what will your administration say to your order of new leisure reading books when they weigh in the factors of the community reading less? Should your library buy a Kindle if the students are checking out less books but using ILL more frequently?

I find it interesting to see where the best starting place for such a crusade should be? Is the inspiration for reading something to be held by the schools? Public libraries? Colleges and Universities? Parents? Maybe its a little bit of each, but there truly needs to be a trend shift before universal collections of literature are viable to anyone but archivists and scholars. Cynically speaking, how can a musty old book compete with such alluring products as World of Warcraft (9 million users subscribed) or the machine that is American Idol? To me, there won’t be a true shift until the quest for and appreciation of intelligence is valued more highly than celebrity status and accumulation of material wealth.

It’s scary to think that more students today can probably write a succinct biography on Britney Spears, but couldn’t tell you the names of more than two characters from Hamlet.

Check out the ACRLog post for more on this topic.

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