Aušra Navickienė, Adriaan Van Der Weel


From the earliest clay tablets and down to the latest touch screens – reading is an interaction of embodied humans with technology. Over time, technological developments have caused numerous changes, transformations even, in reading habits and the reading culture. The introduction of the rotary press, for example, together with the industrial paper production in the nineteenth century, made cheap reading materials available for the masses. On the demand side this was accompanied not just by a tremendous growth in the number of readers but, more significantly, by a major change in the demographics of the reading public, as a result of the virtually universal introduction of (often compulsory) education in the West. By contrast, in the course of the second half of the twentieth century, notably after the introduction of television, many unskilled readers stopped reading books. Currently, the wholesale adoption of digital screens – in educational as well as leisure settings – has begun to transform our reading habits once again. Screens offer a substitute for reading from paper, but equally offer viewing, gaming and listening opportunities on the same device, not to mention the constant lure of social media. This increases screen time, offering strong competition for people’s leisure time and reducing time spent on sustained (book) reading. It also raises urgent questions concerning small- and large-scale effects of technology on educational outcomes. There is evidence that screens change the reading experience in terms of memory and (in the case of fiction) transportation. The latest research shows that digital texts are simply taken less seriously than texts on paper to begin with. Together with the 24/7 availability of the huge amounts of searchable information, these and other changes will no doubt affect how we think about knowledge and information. It promotes just-in-time information gathering rather than memorizing of facts, as well as thinking in terms of smaller fragments of information rather than longer chunks that have already been synthesized into knowledge.

On 27–29 September 2017 the international conference “Books and Screens and the Reading Brain” took place in Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in Vilnius (Lithuania). It was organized jointly by European Cooperation in Science and Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP). The conference was dedicated to discussing the history and present practice of reading, the effects of the wholesale adoption of screens for reading (what really changes and why?) and it showcased some of the preliminary findings of empirical research by members of the multidisciplinary E-READ network. During the three conference days participants from more than twenty countries discussed a wide range of topics related to the issues of reading history, social literacy and contemporary reading, including empirical evidence of reading practices, outcomes of empirical research on differences between paper and screen reading, reading for various purposes etc. (More information about programme can be found on the website The conference has extended an almost thirty years’ old tradition of international book science events, which are held every autumn by Vilnius University. What is more, it contributed to the dissemination of the results of four years of E-READ networking, over the period 2014-2018, and has become the second SHARP focused international conference to integrate European research into the global research arena.

The 70th volume of open-access peer-reviewed scholarly journal “Knygotyra” is titled “Books, Screens, Reading”. The majority of the articles are based on papers presented at the conference. Additionally, it includes articles of relevance by researchers from the Baltic region who did not participate in the conference, the translation of Jonathan Rose’s well-known article on international reading historiography and scientific reviews of the latest publications related to the topic of the volume.

Members of “Knygotyra” Editorial Board Aušra Navickienė and Adriaan van der Weel

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