Library On/Library Off

Nicolibrarian explores the secret life of information

Reading habits and publishing

with 2 comments

For tonight’s blog post, I’m going to address the following prompt, which is part of a course I’m taking at GSLIS taught by Dorothea Salo.

“How do you do your reading these days? Include as many of your sources of textual material as you can think of. What activity pattern emerges? What do you think your pattern, writ large, means for publishing?”

A day in the life of my (reading) eyes might look like this:

  • Wake up. Grab the Blackberry (yes, while still in bed). Scan my email. Delete the crap immediately, respond to urgent things that can be dealt with immediately and briefly.
  • Read the news online, mostly just skimming the New York Times, perhaps checking the Boston Big Picture.
  • Read blogs and journal articles for assigned for school – I am in four masters-level classes, so this is most of what I read. I do all my reading on my computer, though I do hand-write notes in notebooks.  I make a PDF of all my readings (if they are not already in that form – for example, a blog post), and I highlight, mark-up, and annotate the PDF on the computer using Adobe Acrobat Pro. While I am an active social bookmarker at Delicious, I need the physicality of marking up a text (even if it is only on the laptop monitor), and I am also guarding against link rot, blog deletion, and losing the quick thoughts, associations, and connections I make while reading. As one of my colleagues (Trevor, you know who you are) similarly expressed, I am loathe to print out anything from online – be it a 20 page scholarly journal article or a one page fact sheet. I also notice that I am more wont to look up references, search out facts, follow links, and “leave” my reading than I would be in a book. If a reading mentions a case I don’t know, I stop mid-sentence to look it up online. If a blog post has a relevant link that looks more interesting than the next sentence, I follow it. While I almost always return to the original text, I do follow these rabbit trails often.
  • If I happen to be in a coffee shop, on a campus building, or elsewhere about town waiting to meet someone, I’m likely to pick up and skim a print edition of The Daily Iowan and/or Little Village. I am more likely to read something online on my Blackberry, though – provided it loads at a decent pace. It is not uncommon for me to read a printed something that’s handy while I wait for things to download on my phone. (And yes, iPhone friends, yours is probably faster. I know, I know. Pbht!)
  • Throughout the day, I’ll check and read my email, and check in on social media, reading a little about friend’s comings and goings. I mostly check Twitter and Facebook – about half the time on my Blackberry, half the time on my laptop. I use TweetDeck as a client. Here, too, I follow links and will look up names, ideas, concepts mid-stream.
  • I also read textbooks assigned for class, and I currently spend a lot of time using e-textbooks from O’Reilly that I’ve downloaded.
  • I try to read every issue of the New Yorker from cover to cover – not including the events listings, of course. I do this before bed, or in my leisure time. While some may say the Internet has killed reading, I still love to get into the magazine’s texts.  I love the physicality of that magazine, and consider reading it to be a major hobby.
  • I still buy and read books – though not many these days. I often ask for books for gifts. For instance, as a Malcolm Gladwell fan, I know that I’ll likely want to own a copy of all his books. I asked for What the Dog Saw for Christmas, and got it – in hardback. I haven’t actually been able to read it yet, but I will.

What pattern emerges? I am reading more and more off digital surfaces, and less off paper. I am also seeking convenience – I’ll read what I can while something else loads; I will often not wait long or not read something I can’t access on my phone (unless it is required for school, naturally!). I also see a pattern emerging that I need to be able to quickly control and organize my info – filing/deleting/starring my gmail; moving my scholarly PDFs around into organizational systems that fit my work; adding and dropping RSS feeds often. User interfaces that are fast to use are also important.

What might this brief study into my own personal reading habits mean for the publishing industry, if we’re to assume I am indicative of your modern reader?

For the academic market, having online texts will be important. I’d love to be able to buy a textbook, but also have access to download chapters at a time on my computer. It could also be wise for academic publishers to invest in developing and pushing document and citation management systems, as managing the files and metadata for my scholarly library can be a chore (I tried Zotero, but had to give up due to proxy server issues. I’m now on to, and enjoying, Mendeley). Mind you I don’t WANT publishers in this business, but I suspect that the real service academics are going to need will be around personal information management. I like the ability to buy an O’Reilly book as an e-book – it’s convenient and one less physical book I have to keep track of; yet I still can access the information on my computer. And please, please, please, make those online interfaces (websites, databases) usable. Really. Hire me to do your user testing. Just hire someone, anyone. Unacceptable, clunky, difficult to use interfaces must go.

For the mass market publishers, I’m not sure what my reading habits would indicate. I do buy far fewer books now than I did at one time. Perhaps going the route of anthologizing content – like The series of “The Best American…” (short stories, essays, et al) from Mariner Books – would cater to busy readers like myself who will take the time to read an essay or short story in one sitting, but are too busy to commit to a full book.

What do you think? What do your reading habits bode for publishing?


Written by nicolibrarian

March 4, 2010 at 5:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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2 Responses

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  1. Interesting question. In regards to class readings, I am the opposite of you: I print out absolutely everything. I need to be able to take a pen and physically underline important passages or make notes in the margin. I understand that I could do this with Adobe Acrobat Pro, but I’m just clumsy enough with technology that this would take me out of the reading and be a distraction. To me, reading and (hand)writing go hand in hand, and I can underline and highlight without even thinking about it. When I read online, it’s true that I can look up unknown words or follow interesting trails, but I can also find myself flipping between class reading and, say, Go Fug Yourself, so it’s easier for me to focus away from a screen.


    March 12, 2010 at 7:25 pm

  2. I like this question very much- and largely, my patterns follow your patterns. The biggest difference is that you seem to be safe from a horrible plague I suffer under: bibliographic fiction addiction. In addition to the type of reading you do (mainly on screens, lots of blogs, social media), I also end my day by pulling a few hundred pages of mindless fiction. If I don’t have some fiction to read my mind grows restless.
    The other thing I’d add is that if I’m alone, I seek to read every second of the time. For instance, eating breakfast after my husband has gone to work means me reading and re-reading the cereal box, or the junk mail.

    Thanks for the post, smartypants!


    March 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm

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