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Researching Readers Online Bronwen Thomas and Julia Round Bournemouth University

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1 Researching Readers Online Bronwen Thomas and Julia Round Bournemouth University

2 AHRC Research Development Award under the Digital Transformations Theme (FEB- JULY 2012) Research question: What impact is digitisation having on reading? New devices and ease of migrating between them – ereaders, tablets, smartphones etc Access to other readers (and writers) through online forums and discussion groups What can we learn from this as teachers of literature?

3 Data available on take up of new devices Online forums – discussions are archived, threads and themes are highlighted Access to wide range of readers

4 METHODS Online survey of readers Participant observation of online forums Focus groups Interviews Workshop with academics working with ‘offline’ readers

5 Findings Online survey Who? 250 participants Ages ranged from 16-82 Mainly professionals, many retirees Women outnumbered men

6 Why? To share ideas and gain new insights To meet other people Ability to formulate opinions in writing Informality and anonymity of forums How? Print still gold standard for many Laptops and desktops used more than ereaders or tablets Digital devices used more for some genres

7 Focus Group 1: Students Aged 18-30, 5 male, 5 female Use of online sites and digital devices to consume literature and other texts Ownership predominantly of laptops; none owned an ereader Romanticist idea of reading: immersive, solitary Academic reading online versus recreational reading offline Desire for transmediality rather than duplication when digitising lit Use of online sites and digital devices to comment on literature and other texts Only half had used forums, although others blogged etc Mixed experiences on forums: confidence-building; anonymity versus stereotyping; mistrust; hierarchical; encouraging closed-mindedness Online/simultaneous comment: indicates disengagement; prevents holistic enjoyment of book

8 Focus Group 2: Professionals and book club members Aged 30-70, 5 male, 3 female The future of reading and the impact of digital devices Only one person owned an ereader Disagreement: YP read less, or read ‘different stuff’? Need for print books to be ‘complementary’ to other media Hostile reaction to kindle changed during course of discussion Market dominance concerns Acknowledgement of romantic image of bookshop Questions of format and delivery key Activities surrounding reading both online and offline Only one person had participated in online forums Online forums were perceived as ‘sinister’ and threatening by the book club members Intimidation, lack of sincerity, lack of intimacy, lack of energy Cultural capital of different sites Professionals were more open to their possibilities

9 Workshop Participants represented different approaches and methodologies including automated data analysis, historical studies, stylistic analysis and discourse analysis Main discussion points: Issues of methodology and terminology: e.g. reader as self- selecting category; online groups as interpretive communities; the position of the researcher; the categorisation of readers The extent to which anything is ‘transformed’: are ideas about the social practice of reading and intimacy/the material form of literature actually reconceptualised online? Links between devices and content Concept of ownership Similarities between on and offline groups

10 Future Directions Preference for longitudinal, qualitative methods e.g. following the journey of individual readers via blogs, ongoing interviews etc Context and dynamics of online discussions crucial User-generated perceptions of what is considered insightful in reading and interpretation of literature preferable to researchers imposing criteria

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