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Book Week rocks! – but where are the printers? News commentary by Andy McCourt

Thursday, 11 August 2005
By Print 21 Online Article

Sponsors include Scholastic, Allen & Unwin, Harper Collins, Hodder Headline, Australia Post, Penguin and many other organizations, publishers and individuals – but not a printing concern can be found on the list.

Ironically, in societies such as Australia where 100 per cent literacy is taken for granted, literacy is emerging as a major sociological issue. The perceived attack of increasingly ubiquitous electronic information systems – first it was TV, then video, gameboys, the internet, text on mobile phones, blogs etc – is causing concern over the development of childrens’ minds. Given the success of authors such as JK Rowling, Mem Fox, Dan Brown and others, it would appear not to be pandemic, but there seems to be reason for concern. Some kids are even writing school assignments in ‘textspeak’ – eg “me n my m8 wnt 2 the ftee.”

Hot on the heels of Book Week is National Literacy and Numeracy Week starting August 26th. NLANW is federally-funded and supported by several private enterprises. One of these is NSW publisher Lovatts Crosswords and Puzzles, a family owned and operated company, producing a range of best-selling magazines and puzzles for other publications. James and Christine Lovatt believe that crosswords are the perfect tool to improve literacy while having fun, and evidence in the classroom backs this up.

Book Week – with its theme Reading Rocks is worthy of full support from Australia’s printing industry as by stimulating demand for reading matter, all sectors as well as books will benefit. Website is

MY CALL: Are we entering the Post-Literate age?
“The new term, post-illiterates, describes a present generation of young people dispossessed of language, both verbal and written. Today’s young people have abandoned the book, even expressing open disdain for it. Ten per cent of the population read 70 per cent of the books. In the classroom and on the streets, this new kind of illiteracy is culminating in the worst tragedy imaginable: the spiritual degradation of America’s youth.”

Digital defenders cite books such as the above quoted Barry Sanders’ A is for Ox – the collapse of literacy and rise of violence in the electronic age, as apocalyptic and unnecessarily scare-mongering. Indeed, in another such book, Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in An Electronic Age says:

“My core fear is that we, as a culture, as a species, are becoming shallower; that we have turned from depth – from the Judeo-Christian premise of unfathomable mystery – and are adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral connectedness.”

Of course, for ‘lateral connectedness,’ read internet and cellphones. However, judging by the eloquence of critics of such opinions on literacy, it appears duality can exist – literate people embracing digitopia.

There is plenty of research that shows a child’s limbic area of the brain – where imagination and creativity take place – is stimulated from an early age by first being read to, and then by reading. Electronic information systems tend to dampen this function as they endeavour to ‘fill in all the spaces’ or literally leave nothing to the imagination. Psychologists refer to the transition from an oral stage to a literate one. Fortunately, Australia excels in both children’s literature and encouraging reading – such as the Premier’s Reading Challenge in NSW and Victoria – and Book Week.

Make no mistake literacy equals print and if we allow print content to be dumbed down, as has happened with cinema, TV, the internet and SMS, there will be nothing to differentiate it and printing will further decline.

Book week shines as an outstanding bastion of encouraging literacy and shaping society for the better. The printing industry should reinforce the initiative with more events.

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