Putting the social into reading!

Social reading is not a new concept but it has been transformed in the 21st century. Traditionally, reading has been a solitary act but social engagement, conversations and critiques around books have long been facilitated by monthly book club gatherings, literature circles, the written review and informal discussions between friends. However, digital technologies, particularly mobile devices, have broadened the scope of interaction that can be generated around reading and help enable immediate, anytime, anywhere connection with friends, followers, authors and groups to explore and share thoughts and ideas not previously facilitated by the isolated reading of a physical book (Moore, 2012; Mennella, 2011).

As part of a “participatory culture” the focus shifts from young people as consumers of information to that of producers of content within social, collaborative online communities (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and Weigel, 2006). Educators need to have a working knowledge of the sharing process inherent in social reading to not only facilitate social reading practices (Moore, 2012), but to help guide students to navigate these online communities safely.

Digital devices, Web 2.0 tools and reading applications including e-books and e-readers, tablets, i-Phones, reading blogs and websites and social networks allow the sharing of literature to the masses ( D’Andrea, 2010) and enable deep, collaborative explorations of text (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine and Haywood, 2011) as part of a community with shared interests. E-books have the capacity to broaden the reader’s experience with their visual, auditory and interactive elements (Mennella, 2010), promote reading through their ease of accessibility and by nature of their multimodality, allow access to books not previously thought possible by some readers. E-readers have functionalities that extend the social aspects of the reading experience. Kindle, with its built-in, wireless connection supports capabilities such as “popular highlights” which allows readers to share favourite phrases or quotes via social networks, the ability to annotate books and share these notes with others and even the lending of a book to a friend in order to share the experience (Johnson, 2010; Menella, 2011). Goodreads, a social networking website designed especially for readers, invites members to create profiles, develop interest groups, read and write reviews, rate books, investigate what others are reading, play trivia games related to books and participate in discussions (Chandler and Chandler, 2012; D’Andrea, 2010). These examples demonstrate how reading can be extended and enriched “into an exciting, relevant 21st century social experience” (D’Andrea, 2010).

However, not all aspects of social reading are universally celebrated. According to Carr (2010), the skimming, linking and multitasking associated with digitised, social reading detracts from the deep focus characteristic of immersing oneself in a physical book. Certainly social reading utilises a range of different skills and understandings, however, today’s children have demonstrated the ability to combine different activities simultaneously including the ability to multitask in online, digitised environments (Buckingham, 2007). In addition, historically the printed book ensured ideas were stored and circulated and it is this exchange of these ideas, rather than the solitary act of reading itself that generated new understandings. The capacity and speed with which readers exchange ideas and discover new perspectives has been enhanced by social reading practices (Johnson, 2010).

Already, blogs are a popular form of communication for young people and they provide another platform for social reading that can promote student engagement both within and beyond the parameters of the school setting (O’Sullivan, 2012). Educators and students can create blogs within the safe confines of environments such as The Learning Place (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2012) and this is especially important when initiating younger, less experienced students into these connected communities. However, it is equally important that, under the guidance of teachers, students also learn to critically interact more globally with peers from other schools and contexts and the wider, networked world (O’Sullivan, 2012).

Blogs have the power to transform students as both readers and writers, from consumers to creators. User added content is a critical component of social reading and the blogging platform encourages readers to express their opinions and feelings, make connections, draw conclusions, summarize thoughts and ask questions in interactions with others (Mennella, 2011; O’Sullivan, 2012). By their very nature, group and individual reading blogs also provide an environment free from the strict conventions of formal writing, an enticement for the reluctant participant.

Reading blogs can be generated by the library specialist, who is in a position to foster the participation of all students within the school setting. This can be accommodated by instituting equitable access to digital devices, developing niche reading groups within the virtual environment and providing opportunities for students to design and manage spaces within the greater blogging platform (Mendella, 2011), ultimately leading some students toward the path of creating their own blogs. Provision of an environment that values the authentic responses of students can promote online, social interaction and create “dynamic opportunities” for discovery, expression and reflection (O’Sullivan, 2012).

Technology affords people a choice about when, where, how and why they engage in reading. Whether the preference is quiet, contemplative and solitary engagements with the physical book or virtual reading “journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers” (Johnson et al, 2011. p.8), facilitating meaningful reading experiences for all students is an essential role of educators and necessitates an understanding of the changing nature of reading practices.


Buckingham, D., (2007). Digital Childhoods? in Beyond Technology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Carr, N., (2010). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York; London: W. W. Norton.

Chandler, O. and Chandler, E. K., (2012). Goodreads. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/

D’Andrea, D., (2010). Reading 2.0: From Solitary to Social. Retrieved from http://dandreamedia.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/reading-2-0-from-solitary-to-social/

Department of Education, Training and Employment, (2012). The Learning Place. Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/learningplace/

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. and Weigel. M , (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2011.pdf

 Johnson, S. (2010). Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social. New York: New York Times Company. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/business/20unbox.html?_r=1

 Mennella, A. (2011). What is “Social Reading” and why should Libraries care? Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/06/14/what-is-%E2%80%9Csocial-reading%E2%80%9D-and-why-should-libraries-care-a-ttw-guest-post-by-allison-mennella/

 Moore, D. (2012). Social Reading: Fad or Future? Retrieved from http://darcymoore.net/2012/07/29/social-reading-fad-or-future/

O’Sullivan, K., (2012). Books and Blogs: Promoting Reading Achievement in Digital Contexts. In J. Manuel and S. Brindley (Eds.) Teenagers and reading: Literary heritages, cultural contexts and contemporary reading practices (pp. 191-209). South Australia: Wakefield Press/AATE.

Image References

‘love to read’ by Brandon Price available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frombrandon/3316701900/ under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

‘Your Favourite Children’s Books’ by rarudiana08 available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rarudiana08/6862897926/ under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

4 thoughts on “Putting the social into reading!

  1. Pingback: Student blog posts – please comment on one if you can! « Kelli McGraw

  2. Great post!

    I wonder if a savvy teacher-librarian could really get some participatory culture happening with reading at a school by encouraging students to highlight and share quotes/ideas via a Facebook group linked to the iPads/Kindle? I send highlights to Twitter and Facebook but have never had students do this at school. I think it would be fun and there are many ideas one could pursue for sharing texts and insights.


  3. Hi Kerrie
    I agree that it is very important to encourage young people to read collaboratively together however I think the collaboration would be more likely to occur in a gaming situation where they are using their critical literacies to decide on the best strategies to win over an enemy. Motivation to participate in a class blogs within the school community may be more likely to happen when students are introducted to a new novel at a literary festival where the authors introduce their works with humour, entertainment and face to face interaction with young people. Teachers also play a pivotal role in the way they introduce students to novels, through questioning of the themes, characters, links with films or other genres.

  4. Hi Kerrie,
    I went to a Speakers Ink seminar earlier in the year called “Read the Reader” and there was much discussion about social reading and the impact it was having on “long” reading. The conclusion the speakers came to was that social reading would not impact on those students who found pleasure in long form reading as long as they were exposed to and encouraged to read a variety of books.
    We have author visits to our school where students have the opportunity to hear about how the books are written, to buy them and have them autographed. It’s exciting to see the students’ enthusiasm for books when they feel they have a personal connection with the author.

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