How Humanists Read and Why We Need a Better (Electronic) Reading Ecosystem
October 10, 2012 § 4 Comments
I just completed an interesting and brief survey on humanities reading practices from Aditi Muralidharan. If you complete the survey, you can see the aggregate survey results. The survey asks questions about whether you copy out snippets of text that you are reading. I found that my reading practices seem similar to many other humanists in the fact that I do copy out snippets, how long they are, and how I use them. Behind this survey, I hope I’m seeing the promise of improved tools to suport humanities research practices.
I regularly read in digital formats–online, on my computer, on my iPad, or on my iPhone. Depending on the source, format, and purpose I find myself using different tools. For webpages, I’m bookmarking, highlighting, annotating, and tagging using diigo. Highlighting in diigo produces a snippet in my diigo library. For pdfs it’s iAnnotate PDF on my iPad. If this reading is part of more serious research then it gets added to my zotero library, where I may or may not add notes but will definitely add tags and add it to relevant collections. To complicate things, I also research via email conversations or live interviews, which get saved into Evernote (well more often for the oral interviews, less often for email, which I usually end up accessing via search or labels, since we use google apps). I would love a way to link all of these formats and sources, to be able to tag items and easily search them.
As the listing of my own reading practices demonstrates, reading is an active process that also includes highlighting, annotating, note-taking, classifying, and writing. Since these are all core humanities practices (compare John Unsworth’s list–discovering, annotating, comparing, referring, sampling, illustrating, representing– from a May 2000 Symposium at King’s College), the use of digital technologies—like e-readers and e-books—seems like a natural avenue for integrating technology into humanities teaching and research. To that end, several institutions within the NITLE network have explored the use of these tools but come up against a barrier. As Trina Marmarelli from Reed College explained in the 2012 NITLE Symposium, although they are interested in “mechanisms for sharing notes and observations. The absence of universally accepted standards for these features (and for e-texts in general) is a significant obstacle” (“Electronic Texts and Learning: Findings from Two Pilot Studies.” 17 April 2012. http://symposium.nitle.org/concurrent-sessions-tuesday-april-17-2012/session-1a-teaching-with-tablets-and-e-book-readers-papers/electronic-texts-and-learning-findings-from-two-pilot-studies-marmarelli/). Beyond e-readers, we need standards, interoperability, and links between e-readers, computers, webpages, etc. I want a linked reading ecosystem. Until this challenge is solved, e-readers and other electronic forms of reading hinder productive, collaborative humanities research and teaching.
So, while I’m not sure what project prompted the survey I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I really hope it’s one that will make my electronic reading practices easier.