Literacy

Renewing literacy through sustained listening

Putting aside (although hardly forgetting) concerns with truly universal access to audiobooks for this post, let’s consider how listening can build engaged literacy. As the Walrus article ALA made sure to circulate broadly last week argues, literacy is as much endangered by lack of interest on the parts of those with the skills as other human epochs have experienced its fragility through lack of the skills themselves.

True literacy, when it comes to experiencing the world- and empathy-expanding powers of lengthy, carefully crafted narratives (that is, books) requires the reader to maintain connection with what the author has to say and how the author says it to a vanishing point between the book and its reader. Having the skills to decode letters, words, phrases, and passages is akin to amassing the bricks, mortar, glass, and roof shingles needed to build a house: unless you can stick with the efforts to reconstruct this pile of ingredients by following the author-supplied blueprint, you’re left with a lot full of debris or a haphazard stack that offers no fit dwelling place. On the other hand, once you’ve followed the blueprint, you then have a staging point (a house) from which you can go forth with the experience of building and dwelling in it. Continue reading Renewing literacy through sustained listening

Access to literacy connection: Material technology still needed

With the exception of oral storytelling, every way we share literature, published information, and literacy experiences requires some kind of material tool. From clay tablets to paperbacks, cinema screens to computer screens, live theater stages to the mobiles on which apps can reach audio files, we need to control an object of technology (or technologies) in order to get narrative access. Each newly rising literacy experience technology bridge has been met by naysayers, unwilling to give up the old—tried and true, in their estimation—material access point for something newer, less cumbersome and, often, more difficult for the naysayer accustomed to another sort of technology, to use at the start.

The reality, of course, is that everything we do as individuals is more difficult when we first try it, from dressing ourselves to negotiating a journey beyond our home. And we learn to achieve some level of technical competency because others before us have achieved competency that, through repeated use has attained popular assimilation: our general culture accepts clothing and travel outside as normative reliances on material objects. The same has become true for literacy throughout many world cultures. Literacy’s spread, in fact, depended on material things—manuscripts that preserved words and concepts developed by earlier authors and then printed books that made the transmission of scripted literature available to copious duplication (and thus wider distribution). Culturally, although of course never universally as individuals, we have achieved literacy, using yesterday’s tools. Continue reading Access to literacy connection: Material technology still needed

Access to digital literacy increases potential for civic inclusion

Earlier this month, the UK government published a policy paper on “Digital Skills and Inclusion: Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need” that, in keeping with the authors’ purpose, focused on digital skill relevance to employability. Reading it from the perspective of a Stateside librarian committed to building and supporting means for transliteracy development, I see potential application to the need to educate both sides of the digital divide regarding the relevance of critical listening to critical thinking, the availability of resources to build critical listening skills, and, through access to digital audio, the tools to create listening capacity that opens channels of both understanding and empathy for civic participation to become more fully realized.

Transliteracy acknowledges that our human capacity to learn from and share informational and literary content cannot be limited to visual reading of text. Journalism has long left behind the limitation of print to transmit information through still and moving photography, spoken word broadcasts and podcasts, and interactive (social) platforms. Transliteracy describes the “ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.” The end sought through the means of transliteracy exercise, however, is to build the inclusive social and civic connections described in the UK paper on Digital Skills and Inclusion (cited above).

Attentive listening is no more a passive condition than is purposeful sight reading. We gain copious details by listening to content that escape us when seeing a text-based presentation, especially if we are either (1) a sight reader lacking fluency and thus stopped by confusion about punctuation or sentences with multiple dependent and independent clauses; or (2) an overly confident and actually lazy sight reader eager to achieve the finish line and prone to glossing past complex passages on the way to doing so.  A written passage may take several paragraphs to create, through text alone, those images and speeches and thoughts and explanations needed to present a single, momentary instant or insight. (Sequential art[ii], of course, can achieve this more efficiently). Visual performance arts, in addition to the copious acting skills of those on screen or stage, make use of scenery and costuming to impart information beyond the physical actions and words exchanged. Continue reading Access to digital literacy increases potential for civic inclusion

Just Listen

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Almost all of us know a kid whom we recognize as an inveterate reader, and some of us were that kid or grew up to be litaholics as adults. When you think of such a person, regardless of age, is your image limited to that someone who reads silently, eyes focused on text strewn pages?

A variety of expert groups now are on board with audiobooks both as “acceptable” for supporting literacy attainment efforts.  That has placed them in a kind of literacy medicine cabinet, where the format is simply means to an end that must be in a different format, the silently consumed text on paper page.

Listening well can help us understand concepts and feelings—and thus our world and the others in it, as well as ourselves—that escape our notice when we listen poorly or apply only our own interpretation to a printed page’s text. Audiobooks aren’t a booster chair to get kids to the table of text literacy; they are a rich means of offering the opportunity to build a skill just as valuable and necessary as that: the skill of feeling at home in a world where others are just as real as we are. Continue reading Just Listen

Publishers, librarians, authors: Please support the Free Reading Zones initiative. It supports YOU.

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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 mankindand 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 institutionand 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.

Total Boox, a Library, and a Hospital Break New Ground with the Launch of the World’s First FREE READING ZONE

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Breaking news from ALA: Total Boox announced this morning it has joined forces with a library and a hospital in Texas to launch the world’s first Free Reading ZoneSM (FREZSM). This is a monumental undertaking that hits at the heart of library outreach, digital literacy, and the point where the two meet to support and enable reading in ways not seen before.

As explained in the press release below, FREZSM is an effort to spread reading beyond libraries with the help of libraries and other organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit)  willing to participate, and it turns out, many do. Brazoria County Library System (TX) will make Total Boox’s ebook collection available for free reading at a hospital in its community, making it the world’s first Free Reading Zone. Anyone on the hospital’s campus—patients, caregivers, visitors—will have free and unlimited access to 100,000 ebooks (including fiction, nonfiction, educational content, children’s, YA, etc.).

No Shelf Required is taking special interest in this project as it also hits at the heart of its own mission: to raise awareness among book, library, and information professionals of the potential of ebooks and econtent to transform the world from one where access to the written word is a privilege to one where it is the new norm. The portal will serve as the primary media supporter of this initiative and we will report on its development frequently, not only at this hospital in Texas but in various other places as they are announced.

Congratulations to all involved, especially Brazoria County Library System for setting an example for libraries everywhere and showing what is possible with ebooks and digital content. True leadership begins and ends with putting your best foot forward.

Full press release below. More coverage, including an op-ed on the significance of this initiative, to follow in the coming days. Continue reading Total Boox, a Library, and a Hospital Break New Ground with the Launch of the World’s First FREE READING ZONE

Audiobooks: An effective tool for improving literacy

audiobooks and literacyA study has just been released that confirms the positive impact of audiobooks in literacy development. But do we even need to conduct more studies to prove that listening is, in fact, learning? Haven’t people been listening to stories for centuries, and long before they could pass them around to each other on paper? And aren’t we also using our imagination when ‘listening’ to a story in order to conjure up mental images of what is being told to us? Audiobooks have always been popular, and for good reasons: some people (including children) prefer to listen rather than read, and many believe one can learn just as much from listening.

The really interesting aspect of this is the connection of audiobooks and ebooks. Since audiobooks are often thought of as “digital content,” let us not forget that many ebooks nowadays come with an audio component built in, which means they can be read or listened to (or both). Which also means: ebooks and audiobooks are quickly blending into one type of “format,” making it harder to distinguish between the two. Making it rather obvious that in the not-so-distant future, we will not need to.

Read the study here.

More proof eReading improves literacy–more reasons to do more with eBooks

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‘Just learned about the results of some recent experiments in using tablets and e-reading to foster literacy in children in very different environments, including rural Ethiopian villages (from an article on TeleRead). Stories like this matter. They serve to remind content creators, publishers, technological innovators, educators, librarians, and parents that ebooks or digital content (or whatever term rings your bell) can, in fact, improve literacy — and improve it dramatically regardless of geography, economic status, or national background.

Imagine a kid in an Ethiopian village benefitting from e-reading (and having access to the same content) as a kid in the United States or any other industrialized nation. Imagine a world in which knowledge and information know no geographic restrictions.

If that’s not enough to motive the professionals among us to be less afraid of the unknown and more willing to go beyond a “safe sale” or a “safe purchase,” then we are all continuing to fail ebooks (not the other way around).

Recommended reading this week:

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