In December of 2008, UCSC literature professor Deanna Shemek and vice provost and dean of graduate studies Tyrus Miller sat down for lunch with Stanford’s English Department chair at a Modern Language Association meeting in San Francisco.
Their conversation revolved around the sudden onslaught of reports coming at them from all directions, professing doom about the future of reading in America.
Of particular interest to them was a November 2007 NEH study titled “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence.”
That report detailed “the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read…that are adversely affecting this country’s culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children’s educational achievement.”
Reflecting on the dramatic change in recent years of how and where reading occurs, and on the development of new electronic devices, they began to ask themselves what they, as literature teachers, could do to better understand today’s reader—and apply that knowledge to their work with college students.
Out of that initial lunchtime conversation, What Is A Reader? emerged–a multi-campus research project supported by the Teagle Foundation’s “Big Questions in the Disciplines” initiative.
Established in 2009 by faculty members in the English and Literature departments from Mills College, Stanford University, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, it seeks to “understand undergraduate literacy today and its implications for the study of literature at the college level.”
Since its inception, What is A Reader? project members have met for day-long multi-campus workshops–featuring speakers discussing topics ranging from digital reading environments to historical aspects of reading–plus public lectures and student surveys.
On Thursday, January 26, UC Santa Cruz will host a full day of What Is A Reader? events, with workshops and lectures scheduled from 10:30 am to 5 p.m. at McHenry Library.
“Given the recent re-opening of McHenry library, we thought it was especially appealing to meet in the renovated library, with its special collections of historic books and also its many spaces for collaborative learning using digital technologies,” Shemek noted.
“The day’s focus will be on the long history of readers and readerships, the institutions and settings that invite reading, and the ways that reading contributes to the formation of individuals and communities,” she added.
Thursday’s event will culminate with a free public lecture by author and book historian Alberto Manguel at 5 p.m. in Humanities 1, Room 210.
An acclaimed novelist, essayist, and editor, Manguel is the author of several award-winning books, including A Dictionary of Imaginary Places, The City of Words, and A History of Reading.
His novels include News from a Foreign Country Came, All Men Are Liars, and The Overdiscriminating Lover.
“Alberto Manguel is one of the world’s greatest champions of reading, libraries, and books,” Shemek noted. “He is known all around the world for his advocacy of reading and his suggestive writings on libraries and books.”
“He was our ideal guest speaker for this event,” added Shemek, “and we warmly invite the public to hear him speak.”
For more information and complete list of scheduled workshops and speakers, go to the Institute for Humanities Research web site, or contact Shann Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Scott Rappaport