Research on young readers: don’t disregard the impact of eBooks on reading behaviours
The second stage in our survey on reading behaviour with eBooks
The spread of information and communication technology has already caused a great impact on the act of reading nowadays and it is possible that we still may be experiencing just a small and initial reflection of the effects of the digital dimension on the act of reading.
It is reasonable to think that the increase of media and the emergence of unknown interfaces are relevant to the processes that people put into play when reading; however, the attention at the moment is focused on more instrumental or industrial aspects of the matter. Nevertheless, Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation is looking towards another direction, which is, towards the subject who reads and his/her reading dynamics. We are interested in the skills and habits, in other words, in the competence and behaviour of the reader.
In a broad sense that is the aim of Territorio Ebook R&D Project set up in 2009 by the Fundación.
Previously our team thought that reading in the Web was the first impact to be measured. The metaphor of an inexhaustible library was used to refer to the Internet no more than two years ago. But although it was evocative in a certain sense, it now seems to fall short. The experience of the Foundation libraries raised the doubt whether reading within the web has a qualitative different nature. CITA (the Foundation’s centre devoted to ICT, education and literacy skills) is an inside point of view in that field and members of our team mentioned that users, in the first place, rather than reading in Internet, do something similar to “leafing” through contents throughout our reading rooms. According to this observation, it would not be until this stage of previous taste reading is completed with the choice of a specific content that a deep reading activity begins.
Therefore, reading in Internet varies according to the personal use each reader gives to the contents of this web. Each reader finds his/her own route due to the hyper textual structure, since we all know even the framework of each text contains different paths.
The skills for reading this way almost certainly require a more demanding process of comprehension: the reader has to make a greater effort to elaborate the links among the components that each “document” or text integrate. In principle, mental representation seems less complex on paper than a process of navigation. Compared to traditional media, reading digitally has new challenges, which involve information search and selection elements as well as the element of discrimination according to content relevance. No doubt, the latter is an essential competence in reading digital media, if we refer to the Internet: to select and validate sources.
From the perspective of Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation a great importance is given to the school library as a basic tool for “information literacy” within the school context. It is not a school library conceived as a quarters for books, but as a reading strategy present within the classrooms and within the students’ own homes, in order to develop reading skills in all academic disciplines. This view is precisely what makes the digital a great ally, both because this library can be physically ‘delocalized’ and because it can be socially interactive. The Foundation offers a free Digital School Library, mainly in Spanish language and designed for Spain’s curricula but also open to everyone in the world through the Internet (in fact Americans users are our second in ranking).
Reading in the digital dimension also incorporates other options, such as the possibility for interacting among readers (this is relevant to the experience of our libraries and in the case of the Digital School Library), which maybe is most relevant of all. Therefore, we are considering a reader with multimedia skills, understood also as abilities related to expression and writing, as well as “social intelligence” (latest researche in neuroscience is underlining the great importance of this skill, especially in the case of teenagers).
Youngsters will define the change despite the fact that mainstream opinion underestimates their relationship with reading.
The studies developed by our Foundation detected a crossed variable game of contradictory appearance, especially regarding teenagers and young adults.
Within this context we cannot disregard the strength of the impact that new reading devices for digital books can have over the reading behaviours of the younger ones. The incidence of the geek tendency spreading in different levels among this population can operate as a surprising incentive for frequency and intensity in reading.
That is why after focusing our Territorio Ebook project on adults, we are now willing to research into the effects of the introduction of electronic reading devices within the market will have to be studied, especially if we face the perspective that in the next twelve months they are going to be commercialized under the critic price and their use will spread.
Devices to store and read digital books which appeared in the market in the first wave establish an interaction with the reader similar to that of paper books. However, the introduction of the navigation and communication tools, make a change in the rules of the game rather probable. It is the younger readers who will define this change by integrating their new way of relating to cultural leisure contents.
A general consensus underestimating the relationship of youngsters with reading can be appreciated both in the case of digital books as well as in the rest of the reading ecosystem. On the one hand, according to mainstream discourse is that youngsters read less and worse that those a while ago. On the other hand, youngsters not only internalize that vision (this is probably derived from a mix of the journalistic echo of the PISA and PIRLS studies or the studies on reading habits with a paternalistic and not indulgent look of adults), but oddly they even become the owners of a quite old-fashioned about reading and readers.
In the studies made by the Foundation’s Analysis and Studies Department (DAE) and, other studies that we have evaluated, it can be detected that the up-to-date youngsters do not consider reading about contents that do not belong to literary narrative as reading. When we go deeper in the interviews or the discussion groups on reading habits in Spain can be identified rather frequently, strong reading habits related to different genres other than belles lettres. With the data we have we cannot affirm, as it is frequently done, that youngsters read less o worse than before. What we can suggest is that there are four factors at least that should be considered in relation to the younger ones towards reading on digital mediums:
- Contents for reading about certain hobbies such as basketball, surfing, skating, computers, videogames, and music amongst many others.
- Reading process linked to communication and, therefore, writing in chats, fan fictions and forums.
- Integrated and simultaneous reading with other cultural consumptions such as music, videogames and television.
- Finally, the new generation feels the digital environment as something familiar, something of their which favours their privacy (that is, their life within the community without the presence of adults).
- It is therefore possible that the digital territory might become within a few years a territory where reading will spread, new reading habits will emerge or rather - a very different thing- that the actual spreading of reading will happen within the digital environment.
Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez