We propose a socially and materially embedded discussion of reading in the digital age, expanding the scope of discussion from the substrate of the text (printed or digital) to the ways in which readers relate to them in technologies around reading (such as reading furniture) and practices (such as reading aloud or establishing privacy while reading). Reading books, as we shall see when we place examples from the eighteenth century next to examples from the twenty-first, is not an activity that only comes to be realised in the immersive posture of the silent reader. Instead, the digital revolution gives rise to a variety of practices, just as the reading revolution had in the 1700s. It might well be the potential for enabling different reading practices, public and private, which is decisive for the success of both analogue and digital reading devices.
The aim of this research, conducted by researchers from Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Disciplinas Proyectuales (INSOD), was to reveal the characteristics of current newspaper reading habits in Buenos Aires. This quantitative research, carried out by Fundación UADE Argentina, aimed to compare the differences between printed and digital formats. In order to collect the data, a structured online questionnaire was answered by the sample, which included 503 people who live, work, or study in Buenos Aires. The quantitative results showed that almost 80 percent of all respondents read news at least once a month (either in printed or digital formats), which is associated with having a university degree. In addition, the same percentage of people read traditional newspapers at least once a week. Another relevant finding is that 50 percent of people claim to enjoy reading the printed format. Regarding printed formats, broadsheets are associated with the image of elder people, while tabloids are considered to be a format for younger ones. Overall, the results of the research show that both formats complement each other for readers in Buenos Aires, and the paper edition still remains a valid format.
Since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the government has instituted several laws that have become more invasive of private life, including the reading and viewing habits of Americans. As a result, public libraries have been asked to comply with FBI or other government agency requests about patron information. In 2005 the National Security Agency demanded patron records from four Connecticut librarians. In addition, these librarians were issued a “gag order,” prohibiting them from speaking about this issue, even with their own families. In 2007 residents tried to prevent a library in Cheshire, Connecticut from shelving a book about a gruesome murder that took place in that town. In 2011 another Connecticut library was pressured to cancel a showing of Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” a provocative film about the US health care industry. As these three examples show, free speech is not so alive and well. Nevertheless, as this article will also show, these three public libraries (and their librarians) fought to keep or show controversial media or literature, along with fighting the US Government to maintain library patron confidentiality. If these examples show how free speech in the United States is under assault in the twenty-first century, it also shows how the public library has come to be the first line of defense for one of our most cherished values.