February 17, 2018


The Future of Reading | Designing the Future

Multiformat, more social, and increasingly interactive—
even as global gaps in literacy persist




While reading is often thought of as a solitary activity, some of our best book experiences can be social. That shared story­telling experience, says Bob Stein, creator of the Institute for the Future of the Book, is coming to traditional books in a transformative way.

A force behind some of the earliest CD-ROMs and a founder of the Criterion Collection of classic films, Stein also founded the institute, a “think and do tank” that explored the shape written communication will take in the coming years. The project, a collaborative effort with New York University Libraries, is now mostly dormant but left Stein with one key takeaway.

“As sure as I was in 1992 that the future of the book was on screens, I’m now sure that it’s social,” he tells LJ.

Stein predicts that more and more we’ll skim online content, using it as a jumping-off point for further conversations with people around the world.

“There’s nothing ideal about reading by yourself,” Stein says. “That’s just the way we did it for a long time.”—Ian Chant

ljx160902web140readsslug2The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe
by Ann Morgan (Liveright: Norton, 2015)

Distant Reading by Franco Moretti (Verso, 2013)

Mass Authorship and the Rise of Self-Publishing
by Timothy Laquintano (Univ. of Iowa, Oct. 2016)

Where Reading Meets Gaming

As part of the 2014 exhibition Lines in the Ice, about Arctic exploration, the British Library (BL) brought author Rob Sherman on as an interactive fiction writer in residence. He worked with library staff to develop material about the life of a fictional sailor, told through an inter­active game, maps, and even a logbook created for the exhibition—and professionally weathered by BL conservators. Philip Hatfield, lead curator for Digital Map Collections and of Lines in the Ice, talks to LJ about what the project says about the future of interactive texts.

Maps 37.b.55What made interactive fiction the right choice?

We wanted to see if [it] brought in new audiences or made people engage with the exhibition differently. Rob’s “digital cairn” (where messages could be left for the author) and physical objects (such as the ship’s log) became important and dynamic parts of the exhibition space.

How will interactive literature change the way we read
and tell stories?

It’s a fascinating time for how we read and how we play games. Interactive platforms like Twine and Twitch open up reading and games to new audiences and, as we showed, open up the potential for these narrative platforms to interact with spaces in the library. We are also watching augmented reality games like Pokémon GO starting to bring audiences into institutions like ours for new reasons and engaging with spaces differently. What we tried to do could become much more prevalent.

How else is the British Library working to understand what reading will look like?

The library is currently reviewing how it can engage with and collect emerging media formats, such as stories told through blogs, online platforms, and also SMS [text message] novels. For us, this is very much an open field, and we are having discussions with audiences and authors about how the library might collect such material and relate to it more broadly. Projects like On My Wife’s Back [a Twine game that runs alongside, and cannot be played without, the artifacts from Sherman’s residency] have been some interesting first steps.—IC


Top illustration ©2016 Daniel Hertzberg

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

The Latest Trends in Library Design
Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.
Diversity and Cultural Competency Training: Collections & RA

Do you want to ensure that your library’s collections are diverse, equitable, inclusive, and well-read?

Do you want to become a more culturally literate librarian and a more effective advocate for your community?

We've developed a foundational online course—with live sessions on February 28 & March 14—that will explore key concepts essential to cultivating and promoting inclusive and equitable collections.