Wednesday, 10 September 2008

national year of pretending we don't read on screens?



I'm at the National Year of Reading event at the South Bank today, hosted by Michael Portillo. (What a sign of the political times that a Government funded event chooses him as presenter - he's done a good job of it though.)

There's a lot of excellent work going on which is being showcased today, including the wondrous Bookstart scheme and all its variants for older ages, an amazing cornerstone of our national cultural health which I still think deserves more recognition.

But ten years ago, when the first Year of Reading took place, the written word still lived mostly on the page, images were on screen. Since then there's been a revolution in reading and writing: now the focal point of all our reading lives is the networked screen. And yet promoters of reading still speak as if the book is real reading and the web something we might need to use to woo youth.

I put this point to David Bell, Permanent Secretary for the DSFS whose talk was called 'The Next Chapter'. In reply he said the new e-Readers made him feel like a fuddyduddy and I must be talking about education where IT was all very well but you had to teach basic literacy skills first. In other words he just didn't get what I was on about - though many others did, and expressed disappointment in his non-response.

He clearly loves books and so do I, but I'll bet he will spend more time today reading off a computer screen than off a page, will write emails rather than letters and might even watch some TV too, and if he doesn't google, his staff and family certainly do and he benefits from the results.

Doesn't it become so much easier to promote literacy as a vital life skill if we all recognise the role of the digital in our lives and see the importance of bedtime reading, literature and libraries in relation to this instead of in opposition?

The revolution in creative reading and writing on the web has been profound, deserves celebrating and then analysing carefully to see exactly what it's impact has been.

Having moved from running Booktrust to if:book, I would say this sort of thing wouldn't I, but over the last few days it's dawning on me afresh how much these ideas still need to be heard.





Meanwhile I've found myself starting to read Anna Karenin on my e-Reader and, somewhat to my surprise, I'm hooked - forgetting about the device and getting immersed in the story - it really does feel easier to focus on each line when it's in big, crisp text, like a cleaned up print of an old movie.

But I keep being interrupted from my reading by encounters with interesting people.
Bill Thompson of Digital Planet yesterday, Tim Wright of XTP today, and Children's Laureate Michael Rosen too - he was a speaker at the Year of Reading event so that doesn't really count. And I've talked to all of them about our Songs of Imagination and Digitisation project which I'm getting very excited about. Watch this space.

Finally, welcome to Jess and June, our first two followers. To follow in their footsteps click the little follower widget in the sidebar, folks.

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