Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and the Present

The Reading Communities Project staged a two-day event in Liverpool to find out more about how reading has been instrumental in self education, social advancement and well-being. Dr Shafquat Towheed explores the differences between how people read today and in the past. The libraries of Liverpool brought reading to the ordinary public, and some personal experiences of reading in the past and present are investigated.

Reading Communities- Connecting the Past and Present addresses the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 10th Anniversary Follow on Scheme which is intended as a public engagement 12 month project following on from the hugely successful Reading Experience Database (RED) 1800 – 1945. The RED was awarded funding in 2006 and 2010 to develop an International Digital Network in the History of Reading which supported research, digital enhancement and data collection.

On the 12th of April of this year, the Verbal Arts Centre’s Reading Rooms project connected to this important programme in Belfast on the theme of “Is there such a thing as a Northern Irish reader?” held in partnership with the Open University’s Belfast Regional Centre, Belfast City Council and hosted at the Linenhall Library.

Dr Towheed and colleagues led a series of workshops in Belfast to connect contemporary members of the public with their equivalents from the past. What books did readers in Northern Ireland read, how were their ideas shaped, and what can we find out about their ways of thinking and their identity? The Reading Communities Project team ran a range of activities to discover how contemporary readers experience reading and enjoy it, the importance of reading in their lives and their well-being. The Visual Arts Reading Bus staff and members of the public explain their experiences.

Verbal Arts Centre presented three Reading Rooms throughout the day. The University chose C.S. Lewis as the main link connecting the past to the present. All Reading Rooms across Northern Ireland used the C.S. Lewis literature that day. The Reading Rooms Mobile was also present in the city conducting further Reading Rooms to the general public.

Other events included a RED workshop on the theme of Ulster readers in the database which was followed by a volunteer ambassador talk on C. S. Lewis’s First World War Reading and an evening public lecture. The OU film crew recorded events and interviewed participants on the day producing two public engagement and impact films. The full series of films is available to watch here.

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