Leanpub Interview with Mirela Roncevic on Free Reading Zones

A few weeks ago, NSR Director Mirela Roncevic talked with Leanpub about her Free Reading Zones efforts and explained the experience of turning an entire country into an open virtual library as a way of showing the potential of ebooks and digital content to democratize the written word, transform the publishing industry, and envision a future in which libraries serve people beyond the confines of their buildings and assigned zip codes. She has written about it in her Lessons from Croatia Reads series on NSR (the  Sponsor of the countrywide initiative in Croatia to spread free reading) and is in the midst of writing a lengthy case study/report on the project, to be published in October 2017.

This is the most revealing (audio) interview on the project thusfar, in which she sheds light on the challenges she and her team encountered and why she believes the future of reading will look radically different than it does today.


Len: I was wondering if you could talk, just for a few minutes, about your current vision. I mean, of course, there will still be experiments, but what is your vision of a global open virtual library? How would it work? Would it have a sort of single, central administration or?

Mirela: I have visions of it. Somebody asked me in an interview, “What is the ultimate Free Reading Zone?”  And I answered, “Oh, the entire world is the ultimate Free Reading Zone.” Not a particular country.

But I do think that for many, many reasons, we have ways to go to get there. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime.

It’s possible that it’ll happen sooner than we think. Is the technology already there? Absolutely. Can we make every book available to everyone on the planet right now? Absolutely. But there’s a lot at stake. There’s an army of people who work in this industry, and families that need to be supported. And business models to be protected. Institutions to be protected.

So the way to move forward, I think, toward that ultimate goal, is through the concept of zones, because they are more manageable, financially speaking.  So when you take a country like Croatia, you could get a lot of government entities involved to pay for its citizens to read; to take the money that they set aside for literacy and education and cultural budgets to support what matters to them.

I think the way to get there is for libraries right now to rethink their presence. I like to say to librarians that there is tremendous power in being invisible. So this idea that if you are in the right zip code, you get to use the right library, should stay in the past. And I want to see libraries show more courage there, and more support for areas beyond the areas that they serve.

I mean it’s complex, we know it’s all tied to taxpayers’ money, etc. etc. But still I think we can aim higher. This is books, this is not Prada purses. This isn’t fashion we’re talking about. This is knowledge. This is about the sharing of knowledge.

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