What is “Social Reading” and why should Libraries care? – A TTW Guest Post by Allison Mennella

Part 1:  Defining “Social Reading”

“Social reading,” as a concept, is actually quite simple:  people want to share what they have read with other people and receive feedback about their thoughts and ideas.  Technology is the great enabler for social reading, and the natural place for this activity to cultivate.  Social reading has several key characteristics.  First, social reading is an extremely public activity.  Gone are the days of “selfish,” private reading: reading alone in the bathtub, alone under the covers, alone on the couch, alone in the park, etc.  Social reading exists because of the interactions between two or more persons and the text, whether in-person or digitally.  Second, social reading extends the reader’s experience.  It takes the reader out of the book and encourages the reader to make connections, draw conclusions, summarize thoughts, and ask questions in conversation with others.  Social reading helps a book become memorable; it can be a conversation starter between two new friends, or a way to develop online skills like reviewing, recommending, communicating via social media platforms, and exploring what it means to be part of a community of shared interests (both on and off line).  

In that sense, it is important to point out that user-added content is also a crucial aspect of social reading.  Readers must be willing to express their points of view and leave a lasting “impression” on the work whether it is by posting comments on a review board, or leaving notes in the margins of a text, then loaning that book to a friend to read.  Social reading also leads to shared writing and shared thoughts which fosters better idea formation and explanation, than solitary, deep-focus reading (Johnson, et. al, 2011, p. 8).  Finally, social reading “[allows] journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone, but in the company with other readers” (Johnson, et. al, 2011, p. 8).  In short, social reading is a way to connect with others and explore thoughts and ideas that might have gone unnoticed in a solitary reading of the text.

Part 2:  Describing “Social Reading” in its various forms

It is now time to examine the various forms of social reading.  The first is the traditional book club.  A traditional book club consists of a group of readers who meet in person, typically once per month, to discuss a specific book in-depth (Book-Clubs-Resource.com, 2007).  The demographics of book club members do vary, but typically club members tend to be almost exclusively females and a majority of book club goers are either over sixty-five years old and retired, or mid thirties and forties, and stay-at-home-moms (AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007, p. 1-2).

There are numerous reasons why people join traditional book clubs.  Perhaps the main motivation is for the social interaction between group members over a common interest (AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007, p. 3).  People are constantly looking for ways to connect with one another, and the traditional book club setting offers a chance to be part of a real “community” of people who share similar hobbies (Hoffert, 2006, p. 37).  Social reading in a traditional book club has a number of other advantages such as the ability to meet new and interesting people, the opportunity to read things outside of one’s typical repertoire of works, and to receive recommendations and reviews from other avid readers (Lloyd, 2010)

The next form of social reading is the online book club.  An online book club offers several advantages over the traditional book club model.  One advantage is the variety of book clubs available online, many dedicated to a specialized interest, genre, author or series.  Also, online book clubs tend to be more convenient as participation can take place at any time of day (Book-Clubs-Resource.com, 2007).  Online book club participants tend to be younger and more varied in demographic than traditional book club attendees.  The description of an online book club participant can often be described as:  “adult reader, primarily female, but also including men, twenty to forty years old, Internet savvy, with at minimum, a medium reading level” (AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007, p. 7).

People join online book clubs because they are often a motivating and convenient environment to encourage voluntary book reading (Scharber, 2009, p.433).  Joining an online book club can be a great way to ease people into the book discussion format as there is less pressure to participate and participants have the option to remain anonymous until they are comfortable with joining in the discussion.  The 24/7 environment is also more convenient for people who have busy schedules and cannot always make it to a scheduled meeting, or for those who live too far to travel to the meeting destination.  Online book clubs are also great for those who want to have in-depth analysis and discussion about a particular book, genre, author, topic, etc because the online format gives every member ample time to express their points of view without running into the time constraints of a more traditional book club setting (AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007, p. 3).

Of course, online book clubs are not without flaw.  One major con of online book clubs is the idea of “membership.”  Membership in online book clubs can often be unpredictable and less interactive.  In fact, a majority of readers prefer “to read others’ messages and get reading suggestions without commenting themselves…the majority of online book club members might be looking for readers’ advisory rather than participatory activities” (AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007, p. 4).  While membership commitment may be an issue for the online book club reader who is looking for stability, many people are perfectly content with the “revolving door” atmosphere of the online book club, and value the ability to come and go as they please.

A healthy mixture of the traditional and online book club has manifested itself through social media platforms designed for cataloging, recording, discussing, recommending, reviewing and searching books that anyone from anywhere is currently reading, has read, or wants to read. “While some readers still get their book recommendations from newspaper reviews or Oprah’s Book Club, increasingly book lovers are turning to their friends and social media contacts for recommendations” (Hartley, 2010).  Social media “has taken reading and sharing literature to the masses, catalyzing conversations and perspectives from eager readers who want to share their thoughts to a broader world” (D’Andrea, 2010, p.11).  Users can post updates, comment on other’s reviews, show appreciation or dissatisfaction for a book through a ratings system or build conversations inside the book itself on these social media sites designed specifically for books (Johns, 2010).

The latest form of social reading is experiencing unprecedented attention from readers and publishers alike and deserves extensive attention. EBooks and eReaders are beginning to challenge the very definition of what constitutes as “reading.”  For example, eBooks are visual, audio, interactive, extremely social, and a relatively new phenomenon that will no doubt begin to see magnificent and significant changes and additions to newer additions.  EBooks have the ability to extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connect readers with one another, and enable deeper, more collaborative explorations and interpretations of the text (Johnson, et. al, 2011, p. 8). However, it is important to note that eBooks, while wonderful inventions, are only as “social” as the eReader device they are read from.

In order for an eReader to fully maximize the potential of an eBook and promote the concept of social reading, the eReader itself must be fully social.  A great example of an eReader manufacturer that has accounted for the more “social” aspects of eBook reading is the Amazon Kindle.  The Kindle has recently introduced several new features that encourage readers to share their thoughts with other Kindle users around the globe.  The most popular and most controversial feature is called “popular highlights.”  Popular highlights appear as dotted lines under phrases in books that multiple Kindle readers have highlighted (Johnson, 2010).  Popular highlights appear when Kindle users have turned on their “Public Notes” feature.  This feature lets Kindle users choose to make their book notes and highlights available for other to see.  Now, any Kindle user can choose to share their thoughts on book passages and ideas with friends, family members, colleagues, and the great Kindle community of people who love to read.  This is a new way for readers to share their enthusiasm and knowledge about books and get more from the books they read. (Dilworth, 2011).

Another newly added social feature is called “Before you Go.”  This application prompts users to not only rate a finished eBook on a 5-star scale, but to share their thoughts on the book with their social networks (Facebook and Twitter).  Recommendations for future eBook reads are also provided at this stage (Dredge, 2011).  Finally, the Kindle has also introduced a “lending” function that allows readers to share the book with a friend after completing it (Cain Miller, 2011).  Friends that borrow the book will be able to see the previous readers’ notes, comments and ratings, making the read a more personal, social experience.

Of course, not everyone is touting praises for the Kindle’s new social updates.  Many argue that features like public notes take the privacy out of reading, because “not only is the e-book not yours to be with alone, it is shared at Amazon which shares with you what it knows about you reading and the readings of others.  And lets you know that you are what you underline, which is only a number in a mass of popular views” (Codrescu, 2011).  Others worry that popular highlights will perpetuate “compulsive skimming, linking and multitasking” that will “undermine the deep, immersive focus that has defined book culture for centuries” (Johnson, 2010).  Finally, some accuse eBooks and eReaders of stripping the reader of a nostalgic and valuable experience that occurs with physical books, claiming “books that we’ve known and handled often have a personal, physical connection to the past that e-books won’t be able to capture” (Ng, 2010), noting that connections are made between reader and book based on components like the cover, spine, colors, paper type and fonts.  Because the Kindle is so much less personalized, in their opinion, some worry that the purpose of books and the reading experience itself will be lost.

No matter which side of the argument a reader falls on, the popularity of the Kindle, and other eReader devices like the Barnes and Noble “Nook,” the Sony eReader, and the Kobo are certainly worth noting.  With consistent additions and improvements being made to the eReading experience, libraries are and should continue to monitor the ways in which eReading and its social capabilities will affect current and future aspects of the patron-book relationship fostered through the library.

To conclude this section, my ideal social reading experience would encompass all four of the above mentioned forums.  I would create a book club that met in person once a month.  I would use GoodReads as an online portal for the book club to facilitate structured dialogue about the book as the readers progressed through the story.  I would encourage the book club members to create and maintain profiles on the social networking site, GoodReads, so that members of the group can get to know one another and receive recommendations, reviews and ratings from the fellow members.  Also, I would encourage members to read the book via the Kindle or eReader, highlighting passages along the way and making their notes public so other members of the group could read the “instant,” thoughts of other readers.  I would also pick a Twitter hashtag for the book so that members can tweet relevant passages, discussion points, thoughts, or questions in real-time.  The physical book club meeting would focus more on overall impressions of the book and discuss questions that members brought up through the month that may have gone unanswered.  Mixing these four mediums would absolutely create the ultimate social reading experience.

Part 3:  Discussing Libraries and Social Reading

Libraries are in a unique position as they have the ability to both encourage and stifle social reading depending on their openness to the concept.  In order to avoid the later scenario, libraries must take a greater look at what makes social reading a successful and necessary component of the reading experience.

One of the biggest factors for successful implementation of social reading in the library is the participation of librarians and the willingness to adopt, work with, and, in some cases, develop Web 2.0 tools to assist in facilitation of social reading scenarios.  There are essentially three steps that librarians can follow in order to promote and create thriving social reading experiences in their libraries.

Step 1:  Develop a social network, online, so that the social reading experience can continue away from the physical building

To increase both the library’s appeal and stress its value to users, libraries should consider implementing customizable and participatory services for social reading.  There are a number of ways to accomplish the creation of this social space from designing blogs, podcasts, a wiki or even using an existing social media platform like GoodReads.  The key is to build and maintain a site that uses moderated trust to give patrons a voice in this social space.  If possible, libraries should give patrons the opportunity to design and manage their own “space” within the library’s broader social platform.  In doing this, libraries will encourage user participation, a crucial component in Library 2.0 and the backbone of successful social reading.  Ways to encourage user participation includes allowing: “customizable interfaces, tag creation, and the [ability to] write reviews, or provide ratings of materials…” (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p.14).  The creation of this online space and the presence of user participation will help create a strong foundation for online social reading to occur in the library.

Step 2:  Encourage patrons to start book clubs of their own that use both the physical library and/or the library website or social network as a meeting space

As Michael E. Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk (2007) point out in their book, Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service, patrons enjoy a mix of the traditional and newer services of Library 2.0 (8).  There is much to be said about the ability to meet in person to discuss a book versus “meeting” strictly online.  Libraries must be willing to hold on to the more traditional elements of their service models while supplementing these features with electronic resources and updated ways of thinking about and promoting reading.

Step 3:  Encourage participation from everyone

Book clubs traditionally provide a place for people to discuss “the hits,” in other words, the books that are very popular.  The social reading experience, however, aims to include the “long tail” of readers—those who enjoy the “non-hits”—which will always be great than those who prefer the “hits” (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p.64).   Social reading, especially in an online space or via an eReader like the Amazon Kindle, allows people who are part of the long tail to connect and discuss their niche subjects in more depth (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p.67).  Librarians must be willing to encourage participation from all users—new, existing, inactive and unfamiliar—in order to provide a wide variety of social reading groups for readers to join.

One way of accomplishing this is to allow everyone the ability to create a reading group for virtually any topic within both the physical and virtual library setting.  Likewise, the long-tail aspect of social reading could be maintained through the purchase and lending of eReader devices like the Amazon Kindle that allow readers to follow their favorite books and see the highlights and notes from other people who have also read the book and have similar shared interests.  Providing patrons with appropriate and varied ways to connect with others to discuss a text should be a main goal of libraries seeking to enhance and enrich the social reading experience for their patrons.

Part 5:  Determining the future of social reading

To conclude, social reading has been predicted to develop drastically over the next five years.  One of the biggest changes in development is that literary content will become more dynamic and retrievable, especially through the use of eReaders and eBooks.  With the eBook in high demand, libraries need to recognize that social reading is not just a trend, but rather a shift in preference.  In order to stay abreast of this cultural shift, libraries will need to play an important role in the distribution and promotion of social reading via traditional, online, and eReader spaces in order to enhance the user experience and evaluate the staying power and usefulness of different forms of social reading.  With the ubiquity of technology, libraries have many tools at their disposal to create, maintain and develop new and existing avenues of social reading.  While no one can predict the future of the book, or new forms of social reading, libraries can “maintain the momentum of change” (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p.xxv) and prepare themselves and their patrons for what’s to come.

References

AuYeung, C., Dalton, S., & Gornall, S. (2007). Book buzz: online 24/7 virtual reading clubs and what we’ve learned about them. Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 2(2), Retrieved from http://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/237/527

Book-Clubs-Resource.com. (2007). What is a book club? Retrieved from http://www.bookclubs-resource.com/book-club.php

Cain Miller, C. (2011, February 7). Kindle books get page numbers and social features. The New York Times (Gadgetwise), Retrieved from http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/kindle-books-get-page-numbers-and-social-features/

Casey, M.E., & Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford: Information Today, Inc.

Codrescu, A. (Producer). (2011, March 7). E-book tarnishes the reader-book relationship [Audio Podcast]. All Things Considered (National Public Radio). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2011/03/07/134342235/E-Book-Tarnishes-The-Reader-Book-Relationship

D’Andrea, D. (2010). Reading 2.0: From Solitary to Social. School Librarian’s Workshop, 31(1), 11-12. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Dilworth, D. (2011, February 7). Amazon updates Kindle software [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.mediabistro.com/ebooknewser/amazon-updates-kindle-software_b5699

Dredge, S. (2011, February 8). Kindle gets more social with public notes and sharing features  [Web log message]. Retrieved from https://www.mobile-ent.biz/news/read/kindle-gets-more-social-with-public-notes-and-sharing-features

Hartley, M. (2010, December 9). Social media invades book world. National Post, Retrieved  from http://www.nationalpost.com/arts/Social+media+invades+book+world/3950884/story.html

Hoffert, B. (2006). The book club exploded. Library Journal, 131(12), Retrieved from  http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6349024.html

Johns, J. (2010, August 16). The meaning of social reading and where it’s headed [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://e2bu.com/the-meaning-of-social-reading-and-where-its-headed/

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2011.pdf

Johnson, S. (2010, June 19). Yes, people still read, but now it’s social. The New York Times  (Online), Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/business/20unbox.html

Lloyd, D. (2010, February 25). Five reasons to join a book club. Huffington Post, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/delia-lloyd/five-reasons-to-join-a-bo_b_476162.html

Ng, C. (2010, May 14). When we go digital, what happens to the flyleaf? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://fictionwritersreview.com/blog/when-we-go-digital-what-happens-to-the-flyleaf

Scharber, C. (2009). Online book clubs: bridges between old and new literacies practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(5), Retrieved from Academic Search Premier doi: 10.1598/JAAL.52.5.7

Thanks to Allison for sharing this paper she wrote for LIS768. Download the full length paper for LIS768 here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/57754227

Allison Mennella currently works for the Naperville Public Library in the Community Services Department.  She will receive her MLIS from Dominican University in December 2011.  Allison’s is interested in library advocacy and promotion as well as community engagement.  She hopes to use her passion in Social Media Marketing for creating new and innovative ways to connect community members to the public library.

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3 thoughts on “What is “Social Reading” and why should Libraries care? – A TTW Guest Post by Allison Mennella”

  1. Great story Allison! Good overview of social reading and tips for libraries. I work in a educational library but I’m sure that if teachers follow your steps for creating thriving social reading experiences their students love to read the compulsory textbooks! Greetings from The Netherlands…

  2. This is an excellent article with some solid research to support it. I would suggest two other items to consider, which I have experienced over the last few years. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, provide social reading for many; one gentleman provides a weekly forum for writers to bring their material for reading and comment, and the experience is highly entertaining. The other suggestion is that many local coffee shops offer similar experiences. To the point of your article, I am very much a proponent of using local libraries as a social center. Unfortunately, recent economic times and the emergence of electronic access to reading materials may have cast adrift the mission of many local libraries. Thanks for your good thoughts!

  3. I am looking forward to reading this more in its entirety. The idea of reading “going viral” and how libraries can capitalize on this with Web 2.0 technologies intrigues me.

    No longer will libraries be seen as a stuffy building where you are shushed and are surrounded by dusty old books, but a space (even a virtual space) to interact and socialize, exchange ideas and insights….

    Your ideas come very timely for me since I am doing an independent study on Library 2.0 next semester from my MLS at University of Maryland. I would love to pick your brain some more if you have any other insights on the impact of Web 2.0 (particularly social media tools) and the future of libraries.

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