First off let me just say that I've impressed the hell out myself with the title of this post. But I just can't think of another way to describe some thoughts I've been trying to organize for a while. Something less ostentatious will present itself eventually, I'm sure. - Doug
“... the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” Steven Jobs
Next time you are returning to your seat from an airplane's bathroom, do a quick scan over the shoulders of seated passengers. What are they doing?
If your observations are similar to mine, well over 50% of air travelers are listening to portable music devices, playing games on handhelds, working on presentation or spreadsheet files on laptops, or watching video on small players. Book readers today are the minority.
Any number of recent studies are concluding that reading is declining.1 Not just any reading, but reading of novels and longer works of nonfiction. A range of pundits are remarking that online reading is changing their personal reading behaviors.2 As the Job's quote above suggest, we are rapidly become a postliterate society.
Wikipedia describes a postliterate society as "a society wherein multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read written words, is no longer necessary." <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postliterate_society (Aug 10, 2008)
I would modify that definition and define the postliterate as those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming. Print for the postliterate is relegated to brief personal messages, short informational needs, and other functional, highly pragmatic uses such as instructions, signage and organizational device entries or is highly supplemented by graphics. Their needs for extended works of information are met through visual and/or auditory formats.3
Postliteracy is impacting books themselves. How many citizens - already manga and illustrated novel fans - will learn about this year's presidential candidates from:
While many adults exhibit postliterate behaviors, the "Net Generation" is its poster child. And the poster child of the Net Gens is Jeremy from the popular comic strip Zits. A recent panel was illuminating:
Dad: Jeremy, let me tell you a little story about patience.
Jeremy: Is it long? Can you just give me the bullet points? Or maybe the highlights? A short synopsis would probably be more effective.
And the last panel concludes...
Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman 8/05/08 <http://www.arcamax.com/zits/s-386501-750305>
The term “postliterate library” may at first look seem like an oxymoron. But it is not. Our best libraries are already postliterate, increasingly serving sets of users who communicate, recreate and learn using media other than print. And the attitude we as professional librarians adopt toward the postliterate may well determine whether our libraries continue to exist.
Education and librarianship has a bias toward print. This communication/information format that has served society well and in which most professionals now demonstrate high levels of proficiency is expected to be vociferously defended. Most of my fellow professionals are in the same straights that I find myself - a competent reader, writer and print analyist but neophyte video, audio and graphic producer, consumer and critic. And it is human nature to be dismissive of those competencies which we ourselves lack.
But I would argue that postliteracy may be a return to more natural forms of communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization. It is just now that these modes can be captured and stored digitally as (or more) easily as writing. And information, emotion and persuasion may be even more powerfully conveyed in multi-media formats.
What do you see as critical attributes of a library that serves a postliterate clientele?
In the next post, I'll share some of your ideas and mine about postlieracy and its impact on our resources, our programs, and our curricula.
1. These include:
National Endowment for the Arts "Reading at Risk" report, 2004 <www.arts.gov/pub/readingatrisk.pdf>
Michael Rogers "What is the worth of word? Will it matter if people can’t read in the future?" <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14823087/from/ET/>
2. These include:
Naomi Baron “Killing the written word by snippets” (Los Angles Times, Nov 28, 2005) <http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/28/opinion/oe-baron28>
Mark Baurlein The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)
Nicholas Carr "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google>
Maggie Jackson Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.
Lee Siegel Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.
Motoko Rich "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? New York Times, July 27, 2008 <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/books/27reading.html?ref=education>
3. This differs from aliteracy in that the demand for information and new learning is present, only met in other means than print. Aliteracy simply means choosing not to read.