Friday, May 7, 2010

One Book, One World

Nancy Pearl, the book commentator on NPR, has a great claim to the title America's Librarian. Her "Booklust" radio columns are classics, and have been collected in two wonderful volumes. I discovered so many books in these classic book lists that I now read in Nancy Pearl's shadow.

A while ago Pearl conceived the brilliant idea of encouraging cities, through their public libraries, to choose a single book for all citizens to read. The concept, Pearl argued, was a tool to get all citizens, regardless of their differences, regularly to share at least one significant experience in common.

One Book One City has spread like wildfire.

Enter Jeff Howe, a contributing editor of Wired Magazine and author of Crowdsourcing, one of the great books of 2009. In Crowdsourcing Howe argues, in passing, that we are all now surrounded by very cheap, hyper-powerful, mobile, easy to learn and easy to use tools that put all of the world's knowledge in everyone's hands, robbing the schoolmaster of the power to distribute and control it. IMHO Crowdsourcing is one of the most important books for contemporary educators.

Howe argues in a post from April 23 2010 on his blog, also called Crowdsourcing, that because geography is no longer in the age of the Internet as salient a feature of group formation as is affinity, Pearl's One Book, One City concept is dated. With Global tools like Twitter the contemporary concept would be One Book One World.

With that grandiose vision, Howe has started a global book club, called One Book One Tweet, or #1b1t (note the Twitter hashtag). Yesterday's blog post spells out the rules for the discussion group on Twitter.

I am of the 'think globally act locally' school, and am hardly convinced that a global Twitter book club makes sense. Further, I think Pearl's project contributes to local community life in just the right way; it gives us something to talk about with our neighbors: our barbers, tree doctors and the folks we run into at the book store or cafe. Twitter keeps us home in front of the computer cut off from these folks.

I am, however, a pluralist and an optimist and I wish Howe's project well.

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