This event drew together local reading group and book club members, teachers, students, writers and librarians. Many of the participants had taken part in focus groups organized in 2012 as part of our earlier Researching Readers Online project, and we were very interested to learn how far attitudes and behaviours around reading had changed in the intervening period. The event also offered us an opportunity to share our research with interested parties and stakeholders from the locality.
As in 2012, much of the discussion focused on ereaders and their affordances. Lecturers and students at BU reported that ipads and kindles were becoming much more common amongst the student cohort. Two of the participants in the workshop had recently bought or been given ipads, but neither said they currently used these for ‘serious’ reading, which they further defined as immersive. Both the librarians present were enthusiastic users of ereaders (Kindles), as was the local writer, and we had a lively exchange about the various merits of ereaders compared to print books.
We heard from the local librarian that their reading groups were thriving and expanding, with many catering to niche interests, for example a manga group. Both librarians spoke of increasing demand for ebooks amongst students and the general public, and both seemed enthusiastic rather than concerned about the changes taking place.
At the last meeting, some suspicion and even hostility was expressed towards the idea of online reading communities and the kinds of people who might gravitate towards them. These attitudes clearly persisted with the members of the reading groups and book clubs, and while they expressed some interest in some of the more ‘reputable’ sites we mentioned (specifically the Guardian online reading group and The Republic of Pemberley), they were sceptical about the value of such spaces, and wary of the ‘psychopaths’ who might lurk there.
The discussion then moved on to consider changes in the marketplace, and specifically the rise of self-published authors. Most participants said they would be reluctant to buy books that were self-published, and the local librarian reported that they would be unlikely to stock titles produced in this way, the perceived lack of quality for this kind of writing being the main reason given. However, the discussion did touch on success stories and the writers in the group were interested in the possibilities self-publishing might offer particularly for younger or novice writers.
We also returned to discuss the role of bookshops. While it was clear that some participants still felt strongly about the value of local independent stores, especially for second-hand books, most admitted to buying most of their books online. We also discussed online recommendation sites and Amazon reviews. Both librarians were familiar with and enthusiastic about their benefits, but others in the group were dismissive of the reviews, and unfamiliar with sites such as goodreads. The same was true of social media, though we did discuss the extent to which reading was becoming more of a social activity and the importance of social and interpersonal relationships amongst members of real world book clubs and reading groups.
Once again this was a very lively and enjoyable event, offering some further insights into the changes that have take place even over a relatively short period of time (approx. 18 months). We look forward to continuing to meet and discuss our work with the participants, and thank them again for their invaluable contributions.