For a final paper for a summer class at McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS), I was asked to contemplate the question of the demise of reading. I argued that rather than the demise of reading, we should be considering the evolution of reading since forms of reading and writing have been evolving for longer than millennia. Even Socrates lamented an evolution in the popularity of writing that he felt ““[gave] only the semblance of truth; [students] will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality” .
The topic of my paper came about from “Reading at Risk” a report from 2004 on the decline of reading in America and in its 2007 follow-up report “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence”. In these reports the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) predicts the demise of literary reading as a leisure activity within half a century. However, much like Socrates, the NEA’s reports rely on an obvious preference for the status quo; a narrow definition of reading that focuses on the reading of fiction in print format for leisure purposes.
I argued that with the incredible transformations that have occurred in the 21st century society due to the invention of the internet, it is unrealistic to expect that the concept of reading remain the same as it was in past centuries. Thanks to the popularity of Web 2.0, the tendency of passive reading has evolved into a reading-writing relationship. People are now participating in communities of dialogue where formats like blogs and on-line editorials allow readers to interact with authors and with other readers.
Of course upon reading these comments my dad argued that when he read, he did not wish to participate in a dialogue but rather he reads as a form of escapism, to become lost in a good story with intriguing characters. I agree that there is a lot of be said for this act of escapism. Why else would I and so many other people be addicted to Sophie Kinsella books? However, as a future librarian, I cannot assume that this form of reading will remain popular throughout my entire career. I admit that I prefer a good novel like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer to any blog posts I’ll read, but I recognize that librarians must be ready for whatever evolution in reading comes their way. Unlike the NEA, I will not sit back and cry that people aren’t “reading” anymore. I will be ready to meet the needs of my future patrons, but perhaps I will keep a stack of good novels in my back room, just in case!