The enthusiasm for Free Reading Zones (an initiative of organizations and individuals to spread reading and enable free access to knowledge everywhere) is growing steadily on Facebook since we launched the campaign less than two weeks ago. Why Facebook and not LinkedIn? Because Facebook is where the READERS are. We spend too much time on LinkedIn thinking like professionals, and not enough time connecting with those we are in this business for: readers.
We spend too much time at book shows and library conferences trying to impress each other (as professionals) while failing to see that our industry (in its broadest sense) is painfully disconnected from those it claims to serve: readers. And even though we beg to differ, we rarely want to admit that we don’t care to help readers connect with other readers (something ebooks and econtent can help us accomplish like no other medium ever has in the history of mankind—and no, online communities where people get to discuss books isn’t what I have in mind here, although these communities are surely helping us get ‘there’). If we really did care, people would by now have more free access to books everywhere (just like they have free access to music, art, and other forms of human expression). If we weren’t so paralyzed by fear, we would spend more time looking at the horizon and less time stressing over ‘the bottom line.’
Free Reading Zones (FREZ) is about supporting PUBLISHERS and the AUTHORS they nurture (because they benefit every time someone reads). It’s also about supporting INDEPENDENT AUTHORS (because it is a channel for them to expose their work, and, as it turns out, the world is full of independent authors producing high-quality work every single day). And about helping LIBRARIES ‘go beyond’ the confines of their walls to support literacy in all incarnations. Giving people knowledge, regardless of their zip code, is the kindest, most humane way to serve any society because it serves THE INDIVIDUAL, not the institution—and it is far more important than inviting people to visit the local library, however beautiful the architecture or the smell of paper.
Most of all: it’s about giving access to the written word to people around the world by relying on sponsorships from organizations willing (and eager, in fact) to support unleashing of the stories that have been locked up in print books. Libraries have, for centuries, been the ultimate free reading zones. In 2016, we have the technology and the willingness of an army of people involved in this initiative to turn all kinds of places—public and private—into free reading zones (with help from libraries and other organizations): parks, hospitals, laundromats, airports, airplanes, hotels, beaches, schools, etc. etc.
I have the privilege of running this initiative and working with many of you already. It is an honor to utter the following brands in my conversations with sponsors: Workman, Elsevier, De Gruyter, Berlitz, Lonely Planet, Sourcebooks, O’Reilly Media, Other Press, Oxford University Press, Chicago Review Press, Marshall Cavendish, Lerner, Rourke Educational Media, New World Library, ECW Press, Berrett-Koehler, Algonquin, Artisan, and over 200 other publishers from around the world whose content is available for reading in these Zones (in English and other languages).
To all of you whose books are exposed for reading in these zones: thank you. To the publishers that want to join us, please let me know (non-English language content is especially welcome). To the libraries that want to take part: please don’t wait another day.
To all others who wish to help, please spread the word and support the Free Reading Zones page on Facebook. The page itself serves as ‘proof’ that we are all in it together. Every ‘like’ is a vote for free access to knowledge. Every ‘like’ is a statement to the sponsors everywhere that READING MATTERS. It matters more than publishers. And libraries. And authors. It even matters more than books. If we are unable to ‘see’ it, then who is?—MR
Mirela Roncevic is Managing Editor of No Shelf Required and Director of the Free Reading Zones initiative (launched in 2016 in the United States and around the world). For all NSR-related news and reviews, follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic. For her writings related to books and all things creativity and literacy, follow her on Facebook.