Phx Friends of UA SIRLS

News and info about librarianship, UA SIRLS, and libraries…

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

Posted by Editor on June 14, 2011

From Michael Stephens’ Tame the Web

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 (,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 (,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….read all here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: