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February 10, 2010

Submissions of papers are invited to the international, peer-reviwed journal,
Library & Information History, on any aspect of library or information history,
from any period or geographical region.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

* histories of writing, the book or the communication of knowledge
* the cultural impact of knowledge
* the role of libraries/knowledge in times of conflict
* military or government libraries/collections of knowledge
* histories of the information age
* changing historiography of knowledge
* histories of censorship
* knowledge in popular culture

Submissions should be analytical, 7,000-8,000 words in length and conform to the
MHRA style of referencing. Please send as a word attachment to the editor, Dr

Toni Weller, at
Dr. Toni Weller
Senior Lecturer in History, De Montfort University, Leicester
Honorary Fellow, City University, London
Editor, Library and Information History (formerly Library History)


What do audiobooks say?

February 8, 2010

My son and I have  long commute together, so it seemed a natural evolution to move from reading to him at night to listening to books together in the morning.  I’ve learned a lot about the experience of audiobooks this way, for example:

  • the tendency of my visually-inclined memory to link snippets of dialogue or important plot twists with places I’m actually physically located (Lyra entered the underworld as I turned from Atwater onto Lapeer Rd, for example)
  • the difficulty of existing in two world at once, quite different from the immersive pleasures of print (give the audiobook too much attention and I miss my exit; concentrate too much on the traffic and I miss a paragraph)
  • the importance of a good professional reader (sadly, A Wrinkle in Time was utterly ruined by the non-mellifluous Madeline L’Engle reading it herself; I can’t abide the free, volunteer-based LibriVox for similar reasons, though I love the concept; conversely, the brilliant Golden Compass series  featured a stupendous full cast, including the sonorous Pullman himself as narrator)
  • how cheesy sound effects or intrusive music can ruin an otherwise pleasant experience
  • that some books just require print (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a well-produced audiobook, but I didn’t realize how typographically innovative it was until I bought the paper book later–which meant I missed one of the central points of the novel.  The New York Times commented on this, in fact.)

As my son’s taste evolves away from children’s literature and our interests diverge, we listen to fewer of these in our travels together.  I’ve let my subscription to lapse, and substitute podcasts instead.  But as an historian of the book, I’m still intrigued by the history and cultural ramification of these sound texts.  Because they started to develop back in the days of (gasp!) cassette tapes (or were they ever on vinyl?), I think they’ve been overlooked by sexier developments in reading technologies. (Talking Kindles and computers reading for the blind may bring them back in.)

As my measly list makes clear, though, there is much to think about in terms of how the recorded book positions readers, reshapes the text, and makes reading through the ear a collaborative experience.   A new book-absorption process emerges, one that is perhaps neurologically and is certainly culturally distinct from print reading.  This process, though technologically-dependent and certainly 20th-century in origin, should help us better grapple with (even if by contrast) the group reading experiences of earlier times, whether this was the family patriarch in the parlor reading from the Bible, a group of women awaiting Pamela’s fate, or rowdy gentlemen in a Coffee House arguing over The Spectator.

I have not begun to approach this in a sustained, scholarly way yet, though it is certainly if perhaps tangentially  related to my interest in the rise of the disembodied reading eye in the late eighteenth century.  Today on SHARP-L, though, a bibliography is being gathered, which I consolidate here for your own reading (though not listening) pleasure:

* Philips, Deborah. (2007) ‘Talking Books: The Encounter of Literature and Technology in the Audio Book.’ Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 13.3: 293-306.

* Egbert, Marie-Luise. (2007) ‘ “A Good Book Speaks for Itself”: Audiobooks and Reception Aesthetics.’ Intermedialities. Eds Werner Huber, Evelyne Keitel and Gunter Süss. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.

* Shokoff, James. (2001) ‘What is an Audiobook?’ Journal of Popular Culture 34.4: 171-81.

* Matthew Rubery. (2008) “Play It Again, Sam Weller: New Digital Audiobooks and Old Ways of Reading.” Journal of Victorian Culture 13.1 : 58-79.


E-book frustration

February 4, 2010

The excitement over the new iPad has my husband and I rethinking whether it was time to take the plunge into the world of e-book readers.  We’ve decide to wait for iPad 2.0 for now (or another future unknown), for a number of reasons I don’t need to explicate here.

I’m always on the look out for e-books news, though, most of which I pick up from my Twitter feed.  It was there that I came across these two recent-ish posts on TeleRead, “The strange case of academic libraries and e-books nobody reads” and a response.  I read these eagerly because it is precisely the problem of academic reading that concerns me most in the recent E-book Revolution.  Unfortunately, besides a murky prognosis–there are problems, but they will get better!–the posts did not offer me much. (I admit to wanting instant gratification.)

I’m especially impatient because I tried to use an e-book for the first time last semester, in this class–and it was an unalloyed disaster.   I had assigned a couple chapters from Ronald Deibert’s Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia.  Since it was only two chapters, I did not want my students to have to purchase the entire book, so I tried to place it on library reserve.  The only copy the library “owned,” however, was an e-book  on NetLibrary.  I was initially optimistic, since I thought the format quite fitting for a course on the history and future of the book.  Unfortunately, the platform allows only minimal printing (a few pages a day) and its annotating function is almost worthless–500 characters per note, only one note per page.  The students could not do precisely what we try to train them to do: underline, write in the margins, etc.  And unless they owned a laptop (and many do not), they could not even bring a copy to class.

Through last-minute photocopying (what I had tried to avoid), I solved the immediate problem, and I did get the library to order a paper copy for next time, but I was very disappointed in this wasted potential.  And I’m also concerned, because I notice that (presumably as a cost saving measure), our library is beginning to order more and more new books this way.

Has anyone out there fared better?  Is it just this particular platform?  Was there some work-around I missed?  It just seems that e-platforms will need to be  a lot more robust before they can be useful in the classroom.


For art’s sake, destroy that book!

February 3, 2010

Mangling books has become trendy…what was once avant-garde is now offered at the local art center.

Recycle Your Hardcover Books into Works of Art

Altered Books will explore unique ways to recycle a hardcover book into a work of art. An altered book is one that has been altered through collage, painting, rubber stamping and other media and by incorporating ephemera and found objects.

Click here to register now at the Paint Creek Center for the Arts.


Wish I were taking this course

January 28, 2010

…but I can do it via the videos.  Education wants to be free!


Gaiman and I

January 28, 2010

Borgesian reflection on authorship and magic: SAMPLE REALITY · Gaiman and I

Posted using ShareThis


Reading(s): a summary of the online discussion

November 16, 2009

According to your reports, our examples of literacy training throughout history revealed that colonialism, fascism, patriotism, and consumerism—maybe even phallocentroism!—were being taught along with the ABC’s.  The reviewers of also correctly pointed out how much this site taught computer literacy as well as alphabetic literacy. I think there’s even more to be said about this example, however.   This show was heralded for its multi-cultural cast and, urban setting.  Its groundbreaking status cannot be overestimated and its inclusionary politics may have not been equaled since.  However, with its chopped up format of mini-skits followed by animated “breaks,” it also taught televisual  literacy.  I think there’s a straight line to be drawn between the first Sesame Street generation (in which I count myself) and  the first MTV viewers (ditto).  And, even though the show aired and still does on public television, and its production company, the Sesame Workshop, is a non-profit enterprise, the emphasis on licensed toys and branded apparel certainly seems to promote consumerist values.  We might question, then, whether this appealing group of multi-colored muppets is really helping children learn to read TV guides and price lists.

The “Reading at Risk” and follow-up reports generated the most discussion.  Overall, we saw problems with their conflation of different types of reading that they lumped together, and the sorts of reading they excluded.  Kellie, for example, saw an underlying bias against non-paper media:

“The astounding magnetic affect electronic media had on people, especially the young, supposedly amused them away from willingly engaging themselves in a literary book. This postulation and mulish stance definitely shaped [the NEA’s] results because they wanted to prove that media was the reason for the accelerated declining rate of literary reading.”

Ghayth seems to respond to this by stating,  “. . . sometimes you have to read information on the internet, but this is not the same as reading literature,” but this begs the same question they do: How is this different?  How do we know this it is different?  Very little research has been done (some is just starting) on how screen reading might be different from paper reading.  Is it a physical difference in cognitive processes, a behavioral one (linking and scanning), are we just talking about different genres of writing  (posts vs. chapters, for example)—or are all of the above interconnected in convoluted and complex ways?  The NEA, in its quest for simplicity and measurable outcomes, ignores this still nebulous area of screen reading, but with their assumption that what one does on the Internet is not reading, they basically exclude a large and growing category of  literacy.

But their shaping assumptions don’t end with an anti-Internet bias. Ghyath also pointed out their odd (or at least outmoded) distinction between reading for work and leisure—can’t they sometimes be the same?  (They are for me!) He also pointed out that sometimes “reading” is actually “listening”—via audiobooks. Troy saw another problem in the NEA’s distinctions among print sources: “The NEA seems to imply that reading is only reading if you are reading a novel, play, short story or poem. It sure feels like I’m reading when I read a magazine or newspaper. I guess if the source has illustrations then it is not considered reading.”  Julianne similarly wondered about the type of books being read.  Does it matter if it’s a Harlequin romance, the ubiquitous Twilight series, a Booker prize winner or Moby Dick?  The NEA purposely avoided that quandary, but in doing so left other questions unanswered.

Indeed, throughout the report, the medium seemed to take precedence over the content.  Are all books created equal?  Are all online sites? I know I’ve certainly been intellectually challenged by certain blogs and read books that probably actually decreased my total IQ.  This same prejudice—the blind acceptance of any sort of book reading—has educators agreeing that reading Captain Underpants is better than not reading at all. I have not seen evidence that reading dumbed-down texts early in life leads to reading mind-expanding ones later in life.  Maybe it does—I don’t know.  What I do know though, is that SOME video games require complex puzzle solving abilities, advanced strategizing and decision-making skills,  imaginative role-playing—and yes, even (occasionally) reading that fosters all those traits.

But another student perspective, however, helps us start to tease out distinctions between books and other media that might be usefully made. Books are still the chief conveyors of long fiction. Why is fiction reading important?  Kellie says, “reading begets other vital and productive characteristics that many people lack, for example patience, intelligence, respect.” Perhaps it is the identification process in fiction reading—the way we temporarily merge ourselves (at least in realist fiction) with a main character and his/her trials and tribulations that helps us develop  EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.  Certainly fiction reading is not the only way to develop empathy, but it’s a compelling one, and we might be concerned about its loss.  Except that maybe we’re not losing reading at all.  Troy sums up:

“While this is simplistic and frankly a bit silly we have nothing to worry about. Oprah has saved us by telling everybody what to read. While I may seem flip or sarcastic I really am not. Oprah has signaled a cultural shift in attitudes towards reading. This is a very positive thing. The NEA should feel optimistic, it is cool to read again. “