The Digital Reading Network brings together academics, practitioners, stakeholders and ordinary readers to explore the impact of digitisation on readers and reading, with a focus on the reading of literary texts. It is funded by the AHRC in response to the Digital Transformations theme, and draws on the work of an earlier AHRC funded development project, Researching Readers Online.
Today digitisation is changing the way we consume and respond to literary texts, as we can download books instantaneously, read the same book across a range of mobile devices, and discuss our views with others on online discussion forums and book groups. Digitisation also opens up new possibilities for researching the activities of readers of literary texts, allowing us to detect patterns and trends in their behaviour, and to understand how they relate to others within their social networks. The scale and extent of these transformations of an important aspect of our cultural heritage means that there is a pressing need for research that is responsive to the changes taking place. It is also vital that we examine the truth behind many of the assumptions made about the decline of reading and the habits and preferences of so-called ‘digital natives’. While digitisation provides reams of data that are there for the taking, we must ensure we conduct research in this area with an attitude of reciprocal exchange rather than one-way surveillance. We need to explore and apply methodologies that allow for participatory research: focusing not on individual bits of information (“data”) but instead evaluating the ongoing relationships between reader, text and medium. Through the network website and accompanying blog, there will be opportunities for the widest level of participation as interested parties will be able to comment on and contribute to the work of the network, and researchers will collaborate to produce a series of papers and journal articles focusing on specific issues arising from these ongoing discussions.
The central theme for the network is the pressing need to address and understand the technological upheavals affecting reading in the present day. While the historical focus of several members of the network will ensure that we examine continuities as well as disruptions in the ways that we conceptualise and theorise readers and reading, the network directly addresses the following subthemes concerning specific transformations:
i) The act of reading in a digital age. Now that readers are able to migrate between devices, to link their reading to social networking, interact with writers and even digitally publish themselves, how far do we need to redefine the role of the reader or ‘wreader’ to try and reflect these shifts?
ii) New methods for analysing reading practices. Digital tools including network analysis and visualization provide the means to explore the vast amount of data on readers and reading available online. How can arts and humanities scholars work with these tools to enhance our understanding of the practices of readers online?
iii) Teaching and studying literature. How far do digital readers reproduce or challenge the traditions of literature and its criticism? How far does the discipline of English itself need to change to engage with ‘born digital’ texts and readers?