Back to blogging

After almost a month of no blogging, I am back. After finishing my Masters degree and handing in my dissertation, I decided to reward myself with some job hunting and a trip to Barcelona – anyone who hasn’t visited the city before, I HIGHLY recommend it; it is so beautiful.

The view from Parc Güell

The view from Parc Güell

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The generation of tomorrow and the “embarrassment” of books.

Liz Bury  wrote a worrying, yet interesting, article on The Guardian‘s website yesterday (4th October 2013) revealing results from the 2012 Annual Literacy Survey which the National Literacy Trust carried out. ‘Books are deemed a thing of the past by YouTube generation of readers’ – the ’embarrassment’ of books means that children are watching more YouTube videos instead.

It was reported that since 2005, there has been a 25% decrease in the amount of children who read outside school. The National Literacy Trust’s survey included approx. 35,000 young people, and it was thought that almost a third of children aged between eight and 16 do not read any text-based media in their leisure time. In the space of 7 years, the percentage of children who claimed to have read in their own time was down around 10% (38.1% in 2005, compared with 28.4% in 2012).

It is thought that one of the main causes of this is ’embarrassment’. 16.6% of young people said that they “would be embarrassed if their friends saw them read” in the 2010 study; this increased to 21.5% in the 2012 study. Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said that it “is a significant social and cultural trend which needs to be addressed”.

I understand that whilst growing up, children and teenagers constantly feel that they need to ‘fit in’; I remember feeling like that in my younger years. Although I never felt that reading was deemed ‘uncool’ and was certainly not ’embarrassing’. It is harder to accept that this is how children of today feel about reading, particularly given that I never personally experienced this when I was a child. (Perhaps it was because I grew up in the 90’s, before the internet boom??) Saying this, I can only imagine that with the surge in social media sites, YouTube, Vine, and video-based communication, such as Skype, it is a lot easier for children to choose to communicate/search the web through videos as opposed to writing. Douglas mentioned the original thought was that “children’s reading was migrating from print to digital, […] that they were reading ebooks. But […] they are consuming information in ways that do not involve reading or writing text”.

So, what is being done to encourage children to read?

  • The National Literacy Trust has launched a campaign to promote reading whereby children and adults must nominate their reading hero.
  • Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts & Crosses, has recently announced a campaign to support Young Adult fiction in the UK with a YA Literature Convention which will happen in London, summer 2013 (article from The Bookseller).
  • Whilst I have a rather biased negative view regarding Amazon, I have to say that their recent advertisement for their Kindle device is fantastic in encouraging children to read (despite the fact that they are encouraging children to read in electronic form as opposed to print form – I definitely think that needs to be the opposite way around, but still, I guess it is a start??):
  • As I mentioned in a previous post about library closures affecting children’s literacy, organisations such as the Voices for the Library are trying to promote libraries and shows that, despite the closures, there are still many opportunities for libraries in the future.

It will be interesting to see the results which come from the next study generated from the National Literacy Trust so we can see whether there has been any change in statistics (hopefully, for the better!) Certainly, it would be fantastic to see if any of the points I mentioned above may help the cause and hopefully make children aware that reading is not embarrassing, but can be a great experience.


#NationalPoetryDay

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day (@PoetryDayUK) is ‘water, water everywhere’; inspired by one of my favourite poets (and poems), Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The first Thursday of October has marked the special event for the last 20 years. Poetry is a fantastic medium which can express anything. And the best part is, is that everybody can interpret different things from poetry; what may mean one thing to someone, could mean something completely different to someone else.

Matt Lewis writes in an article for The Telegraph: “The aim of National Poetry Day is to celebrate poetry in all of its diverse forms. In doing so, The Poetry Society and its affiliates hope to attract new readers and remove some of the academic, elitist stigma that is attached to verse, making it part of the public imagination again”. Something else which I feel I should mention is how muscians can also promote poetry. Being a fan of Arctic Monkeys, I really enjoyed their slightly altered version of John Cooper Clarke’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ which is included on their new album, AM. Anyone who is a fan of either JCC or AM should definitely YouTube the different versions.

On another note, I shall leave you with this:

Possibly my favourite quote to describe poetry.


Library closures and their impact on children’s literacy.

What libraries do for us – and me is an article written by Malorie Blackman on The Guardian‘s ‘Comment is free’ page which took my interest last week.

Blackman emphasised the point that libraries are the “best literacy resource we have” and with many public libraries closing across the country, there is concern that it could have some impact on literacy rates in children. It is thought that approx. 105 libraries have closed or left their local authority control since April 2012.

Many local councils have announced library closures. Lincolnshire plans to close 32 of its 47 libraries and Sheffield are to keep 12 out of 28 libraries open. Blackman commented on culture minister Ed Vaizey’s quick decision to save Jane Austen’s ring leaving the UK, in August, and said how he should be showing the same concern to save our libraries. Like Austen’s ring, libraries are considered “national treasures”.

There have been numerous complaints that the closures are in breach of the 1964 Libraries Act, which specifies that “every authority must provide a comprehensive and efficient library service”. Although despite this the article states that the government are yet to become involved in investigating the complaints.

Blackman questions why these closures are happening in a time where the government has placed emphasis on children’s reading and has also announced plans to reform secondary education, in particular the changes to GCSEs. It is no doubt that libraries offer a fantastic service. Story-telling sessions for young children, homework clubs and knowledgeable staff make up a safe environment where children, and adults alike, can discover and explore.

While libraries make up a significant part of our cultural heritage and have a positive impact on communities across the country, I feel that libraries can only do so much. What I mean by this is children’s parents must also play a significant part in encouraging their children to read and visit the library. Unless a child’s parent takes them to a library on a regular basis, then the child will not encounter the benefits. These library closures also make me wonder whether booksellers will offer more services to make up for those lost through closures? Booksellers could hold story-telling afternoons for young children and themed art and craft days to get children involved in literature. It can also be suggested that bookshops could offer a scheme where parents could trade-in bought books for other secondhand books at a small fee, particularly for those families who may have a low income. Suggestions which hopefully won’t have to be considered.

Blackman’s article finishes with the statement: “Without them [libraries], literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone”. “The Institute of Education stated that children reading for pleasure between the ages of 10 and 16 can drastically improve vocabularly and attainment and is extremely important for a child’s cognitive development”. With this statistic, it can be seen that library closures will have a negative impact on literacy in children.

There are, however, sites such as the Voices for the Library which “advocates for public libraries and library staff”. The site presents some encouraging statistics and stated that although library visits were in essence, down, visits via libraries’ websites were in fact up, with more loans being issued via websites. According in CIPFA, book issues increased in 2009 from 307,571,240 to 310,776,757. In addition it is thought that during the period 2008-9, web visits to UK libraries were up 49%. So while, libraries are closing, library usage via websites are up emphasising the point that “these are times of opportunity, not decline”. Like bookshops, libraries can embrace change by enhancing the use of digital. A great example is the new library which opened in Birmingham recently (you can read my blog post on it, here). The new building is a successful mix of tradition and discovery reflected through the incorporated use of digital devices to enhance learning. Certainly, it is current news such as this which shows just how much opportunity there is for libraries in general.


Man Booker: to go Stateside, or to not go Stateside?

That is the question on everyone’s lips as newspapers and bloggers speculated whether or not the Man Booker Prize will be extended to American authors in 2014. Whilst the decision will remain undecided until Wednesday (18th) of this week, it hasn’t stopped the likes of The Guardian and The Bookseller reporting the possibility of the rule change to one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

For the past 45 years, the Man Booker Prize has recognised the works of authors in the UK, Ireland and other countries of the Commonwealth. Extending the Prize out to authors across the pond has received mixed opinions. Writer/broadcaster Melvin Bragg compared the possible change to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate”. The main concern is that allowing American writers to be a part of the prize will drastically diminish the award’s identity and its link with Britain.

On the other hand, allowing the Booker to go Stateside will ensure that the Prize receives more recognition internationally. Scott Pack, Me And My Big Mouth, wrote a good piece outlining 10 points about the move and pointed out that the USA is the only English-speaking country which isn’t currently included in the Man Booker. Pack also suggests that the Man Booker could end up stealing “some of the Baileys Prize or Orange Prize’s thunder” as they already include writers from the USA in addition to other worldwide authors.  Michael Bhaskar has also written a piece on The Bookseller: Keep it special‘ speculating his thoughts on the possible change.

I have mixed feelings about the possible change. I can see how it could be beneficial to the Prize itself in terms of promoting writing from undiscovered authors and small independent publishers. But on the other hand, the Man Booker Prize creates a sense of identity in British literature. The world is so inundated with global products, corporations, organisations etc. that I feel they can sometimes become disenfranchised to the point where people may actually lose interest. I personally believe that people like to find the undiscovered and I feel that the Man Booker Prize could still appeal to new people without the help of American authors.  Moreover, there are already other prizes (such as those mentioned previously) which credits American authors and their writing, so why not keep the Man Booker the way it is?

More on this on Wednesday when the decision will be finalised… In the meantime, here is a list of this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist and reasons why it’s the best shortlist in a decade…

  • NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names (Chatto)

    Photo from The Guardian

    Photo from The Guardian

  • Eleanor Catton The Luminaries (Granta)
  • Jim Crace Harvest (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
  • Ruth Ozeki A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
  • Colm Toibin The Testament of Mary (Viking)

And so begins the biggest ever promotion of bookshops: Books Are My Bag!

Saturday 14th September marks one of the biggest promotions of bookshops in bookselling history. Books Are My Bag played a prominent presence at this year’s London Book Fair in April where the hype to yesterday’s launch began.

Photo from HarperCollins' website

Photo from HarperCollins’ website

The campaign is to celebrate bookshops across the country and to encourage people to support their local bookshop; whether it be a small independent or one of the national chains. Statistics on the BAMB website shows that ‘56% of all book buying decisions are in fact decided in a bookshop’. Consumers do not always know what they are after until they find it whilst browsing in a bookshop. Certainly, it seems that mortar-and-bricks bookshops are the way to discover new books that perhaps you hadn’t thought of buying before.

In an article by The Bookseller last week, CEO of the Booksellers Association, Tom Godfray, said that the UK would “wake up to a sea of orange” as booksellers across the country prepared their stores and events during the week. Of course, a big promotional event cannot be without iconic merchandise, and for the event, merchandise came in the form of Books Are My Bag tote bags designed by advertising firm, M & C Saatchi; inspired by Lord Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought.

To add to the hype, the event was promoted by a media launch at Foyles in London on 9th September, where high-profile figures such as: Amanda Holden, Andrew Marr, Alan Johnson, Sebastian Faulks and Marian Keyes, attended in support of the event.

The promotion is set to run until 31st December 2013.

I personally feel that the BAMB promotion is a fantastic event in which to highlight our bookshops to the public. With new digital technologies, as well as the rise of online retailers, high street booksellers have slowly been dying out; particularly independents. Many booksellers already host an array of events such as author talks to entice customers over the threshold. One thing that did surprise me, however, was on looking at Waterstones’ website, there is no reference of the BAMB campaign on their main page. There is mention of BAMB on the blog section of their website, but what if the customer does not look at that section? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if bookshops’ websites had the BAMB logo somewhere on their homepages?

Of course, the campaign has been thoroughly popular on social media sites, such as Twitter. #booksaremybag was trending on the launch day, with hundreds of posts from independent and chain booksellers posting pictures of their events, and many customers tweeting about their purchases.  It will be great to see how much of an impact the campaign will have on high street bookshops and whether it will entice customers to use their local bookshop more often.

@booksaremybag


Are ‘phablets’ a rival for e-reading devices?

The above video is a shocking yet accurate depiction of the growing smartphone-obsessed culture which is becoming apparent within society. The New York Times posted this intriguing article a couple of weeks ago, ‘More Connected, Yet More Alone‘, and talks of Charlene deGuzman’s reasons behind making the video. Nick Bilton, the person who wrote the article, speculates whether smartphones are having their ‘TV-in-the-kitchen-moment’?

From the video, I can definitely see how it relates to today’s society. Particularly with social media playing a prominent role in people’s day-to-day lives, and the recent developments in mobile phone technology over the years, it is so much more easier to connect virtually than it ever has been; so much so that I believe that people are becoming obsessed with it. The day after the New York Times posted this article, The Guardian published an article stating that phablets are big in Asia-Pacific, equalling tablets and laptops combined.

The Guardian reported that 25.2 million phablets – ‘large-screened phones with screen sizes of between 5in and 7in diagonally’ – are shipped in the Asia-Pacific (excl. Japan), roughly the same amount of devices shipped as tablets (12.6 million) and laptops (12.7 million) combined (figures from research company, IDC). It is believed that it is Samsung’s Galaxy Note, inspired by Dell’s Streak phone in 2010, which has truly sparked the surge in phablet technology.

Looking at the evidence, it made me wonder how it will affect publishing in the future…

I wrote about this earlier in the year with my blog post: ‘Adaptive Web Technology and Publishing‘ and even the figures mentioned there stated that by 2016, 2.1 billion mobile browsers will use HTML5 browsers, therefore adding to the current 17% of the world’s population which has a mobile subscription.

As it can be seen from the articles in the NYT and The Guardian, more phablets than laptops and tablets combined are being shipped in Eastern parts of the world – imagine what the figures would be should Western parts of the world be included, too. For me, it poses the question as to whether e-reading devices such as the Kindle could soon become old news, especially if technology is moving towards a smartphone future…

Publishers are already recognising that ensuring their content is available through smartphones is adamant. For example, academic publisher, Cambridge University Press’s ‘Cambridge Journals Online’ platform has launched a Mobile version. In addition, publishers such as Penguin have launched various Apps to use on mobiles and tablet devices, Kindle has an App which is available to use on devices other than Kindles, and with social media sites such as Twitter, publishers are able to interact with the end-consumer on a regular basis.

What’s to say, that we ourselves, aren’t publishers? For those who use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, every post, tweet, and status is published for the world to see. Phablets make this easy and with the growing obsession of ‘connecting’ with one another, it appears that we are increasingly moving into a world where access to content is constantly in demand.

Personally, I do not believe that phablets are a serious threat to e-reading devices… yet. The article from The Guardian only takes into account the figures for Asia-Pacific, and it is already common knowledge that the technological market is by far greater and more advanced than other parts of the world. E-reading devices such as the Kindle will continue to develop, and while the ‘I Forgot My Phone’ video shows people using their smartphones, not Kindles/iPads etc., I believe that the majority of people may not necessarily make the link of reading books on their smartphones just yet. Saying that, I do feel that the concept of publishing on a wide scale is pretty much there when it comes to smartphone technology.