First, how have reading and books changed since you were a child, for you specifically?
I feel like I’ve come full circle as a reader. When I was young I read everything in sight. The public library was four blocks from my house and you would more often than not find my bike parked out front. (And by “parked” I mean laying on the grass in the library’s front yard.) I loved to read and carried a book with me everywhere I went and then some time around 6th or 7th grade I just stopped reading. I stopped going to the library. I stopped carrying books around with me. Looking back, I’m not really sure why. Maybe life got too busy. Maybe I had a hard time finding books that interested me. (I never cared for Teen books.) Maybe I was spending more time reading for school. I’m not sure. But that disinterest carried all the way through high school and college. It wasn’t until after college that I started reading for fun again. I remember moving to Louisville, Kentucky and walking down to the nearest branch of the public library to use the internet. (This was a long time ago!) It was the first time I had been in a public library in a long time. I walked in and just started browsing. I walked out that day with several books and started making up for lost time.
Now I can’t fathom not being in the middle of a book (or two or three). Reading is such a huge part of my life and my family’s life. We read books out loud together at home and in the car and it’s not out of the ordinary to find all of us piled up on the couch reading our own books, too. I think, in general, I’m still drawn to the same types of books and stories that I always have been but I step out of my comfort zone a bit nowadays because I feel that it’s important for my job.
Second, talk a little about what you see in the future for reading, books, or publishing - say 20 years from now. Will we read more or less, will our reading become more interactive? What will happen to traditional publishing?
We’ve had an interesting development in my library system over the last couple of years. Circulation numbers for print materials have gone up. Adult and juvenile print materials’ circulation numbers have skyrocketed. I find that fascinating and encouraging. Did we (as a system but also as a society) bottom out? Are my library’s recent trends a sign of change or just a return to more normal levels? It’s hard to say, but it’s always good when more people are reading!
I’m optimistic about the future. I don’t think people will stop reading but it’s realistic to expect that technological changes will impact how people read and how much they read. While I personally prefer to use a physical copy of a book, there’s no denying that the advent of eBooks has dramatically altered the reading landscape. I think that we will continue to follow the recent trends. Reading will stay steady but print sales will continue to decline. Publishing houses will have to adapt or they, like so many of their brethren, will go under. How will they adapt? I don’t know – but I’m excited to find out. Maybe books become experiences. Maybe they’re more interactive. It feels like we’re just beginning to find new and exciting ways to merge reading and technology. I think one of the great things about reading is that you can’t alienate a reader. We’re like escalators. There’s an old Mitch Hedberg joke: “An escalator can never break; it can only become stairs.” Take away all the bells and whistles and you still have a reader. And there will always be readers.