Reading into children's experiences with e-books

Lynne McKechnieEven 20 years after working at the London Public Library, “Lynne the Librarian” is a nickname that’s stuck with FIMS Associate Professor Lynne McKechnie.

The Library & Information Science (LIS) professor spent nearly two decades as a children’s librarian before completing her PhD in LIS at Western. Although she loved working in a library setting, McKechnie found herself coming across questions that couldn’t be answered from practice alone.

Research and teaching has helped her find answers to these questions. In particular, she’s interested in the intersection between children, public libraries and reading.

“There’s been a lot of research done on what parents and teachers and librarians think is happening, but what are the children really doing?” says McKechnie. “What do they think is happening? What is important to them?”

Her research interests are wide-ranging and also include topics like the efficacy of public library programs, the political economy of publishing and representations of children in Holocaust memorials and museums.

Last year, McKechnie finished collecting data on children’s e-book reading habits. She wrote about the findings for her research report, “The Tech Savvy Child E-reading: Children’s Experiences and Perceptions of E-Book Reading.”

“We learned that for all the children, even as young as the two-year-olds, they largely regarded these devices as gaming spaces — not reading spaces,” McKechnie explains. “They're all tech-savvy. If we put these devices in their hands, they know how to use them.”

According to these children, they seem to enjoy print books and e-books equally.

“For them, a book is a book is a book but it comes in different forms. The term is very flexible.”

She hosted a talk on e-book reading at the London Public Library in February 2016 as part of the FIMS #PublicInterest lecture series. She’s also shared her findings at a Chicago conference for the Association for Library & Information Science Education in January 2015.  

But McKechnie’s work extends beyond London and the US. While attending a conference in Oslo, Norway, McKechnie and her FIMS colleague Paulette Rothbauer were invited to collaborate on a book with two Norwegian professors. The four researchers edited Plotting the Reading Experience: Theory/Practice/Politics, a collection of papers from international scholars.

“It’s about reading from widely diverse perspectives and contexts. The book is really quite exciting,” McKechnie says. “I was one of the keynotes at the conference and I talked about getting rid of prescribed reading and levelled reading. It’s also what I discussed in my chapter of the book.”

Plotting the Reading Experience is expected to be available in the late spring or early summer of 2016.

Another project that McKechnie worked on with Rothbauer and professor emeritus Catherine Sheldrick Ross was the book Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community. The book debunks popular myths about reading, advocates for pleasure reading and explores the library’s crucial role in readers’ lives.

“The book has done very, very well. It supports public libraries, which support readers,” McKechnie says. “We know that with e-reading and the change in bookstores, we really need to do a new edition. It’s about 10 years old now.”

She hopes to complete a new edition before retiring in January 2020.

Even though she won’t be teaching in a few years, McKechnie plans to still do research.

“I think about research all the time. I’m writing a paper right now on the report of research rigor in the publications of information behavior scholars.”

McKechnie’s passion will always be researching children and reading. It’s a thread that’s continued throughout her career, ever since she completed her PhD thesis in 1996.

One of her initial research studies examined what children do when they visit public libraries.

“My PhD thesis study showed me what children were doing was different than what adults thought they were doing. The children were merrily going on their way, helping themselves become readers in ways that we didn't understand at the time.”

Methodologically, it can be difficult to study young children because they can’t be formally interviewed or given surveys to fill out. Observational approaches can be used instead, McKechnie says.  

For instance, she’s visited children at their homes and had them show her their personal reading collections. McKechnie chatted with the children, asking them about their favourite books and what they have or haven’t read.

Several interesting insights came out of these observational studies. Children didn’t read classic books, like The Adventures of Robin Hood. Rather, and they preferred non-traditional reading material, such as store catalogues or video game manuals. Boys in particular were more interested in reading informational material.  
From 1997 to 2004, McKechnie has conducted over 200 interviews with young children, with the help of her graduate students. She’s even been able to apply some of her findings to the classroom.

“I give students a lot of choice. That’s the principle I saw with the children with my thesis works,” she says. “It’s really fine that we’ve set all these agendas for them, but really they set their own agenda. And for the most part, they’re very adept.”