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Shared literature

The Netherlands read. This is not only the slogan of the CPNB [Collective Promotion of Dutch Literature], but also reality. Many Dutchmen read and like to talk about books with others; informally with friends or in organised reading clubs. However, the role of the reader and the interaction between readers has been underemphasised in the study of literature. The research project Gedeelde Literatuur [Shared Literature] (2014-2016), in which ICOG researchers and literary studies students collaborated with civic organisations, addressed this problem. The project was sponsored by the NWO and received an Added Value through Humanities grant.

Dutch reading groups’ social and academic value

It has been estimated that there are 1500 organised reading groups in the Netherlands. A large number of these groups (600 in 2014) are supported by Senia, a non-profit organisation which organises reading groups. These active readers play an important role in the cultural transfer via literature. They encourage one another to read, they analyse their reading experiences, and they sharpen their opinions by conversations. Societal themes in the books are discussed in the groups and the reading group members draw connections between the stories and their own lives. How do we look at other people? And what is really important to me?

The discussion about books is not only interesting for the readers and their reading groups. Libraries and organisations like Senia want to have a better understanding of the dynamics of reading groups in order to practically support them. For academics it is important to get a better insight in the discussions in order to map the value of literature in society and in which ways culture (ideas, norms and values) are transferred. Because of that, libraries, organisations like Senia and academics can help each other. The access to reading groups via partner organisations was crucial for this project.

Kaleidoscope of research projects in a strengthened collaboration

In 2010, there was already contact between senior ICOG researchers Sandra van Voorst, Jeanette den Toonder and Petra Broomans and the societal partners via several projects at the Science Shop Language, Culture and Communication. Thanks to the Added Value through Humanities grant, a special interdisciplinary research seminar could be organised in which also representatives of Senia and the libraries participated.

Eighteen graduate students did research on the reading groups. In collaboration with the partners, the researchers and students formulated research questions which enabled them to map what happens in the reading groups. Hundreds of surveys were filled in, dozens of reading groups were visited and experts were interviewed. These sub-research projects created a varied mosaic: the dynamics of German language reading groups, the discussion preparations of the history reading group, but also why people stopped participating in reading groups. Researchers also investigated non-traditional reading groups, like online reading groups or reading groups in prisons. An overview and links to the individual research projects (in Dutch) can be found here.

Research results for the readers and in the scientific debate

All research results of sub-research projects were made publicly accessible. Sandra van Voorst compiled a connecting publication for a non-academic audience. During a seminar, researchers and students presented their results to the employees and volunteers of the partner organisations and they discussed the recommendations, practical consequences and next steps. On the well-attended Senia readers day, the project was presented to the reading groups.

The Shared Literature project led to several scientific publications. One of these articles was published in a new international journal on public engagement in research, Research for All. (Cultural transfer in reading groups). This journal is meant for “anyone, working inside or outside universities, who is committed to seeing research make a difference in society”. Its reviewers come from both academia and civic organisations. Although the research project was completed in 2016, there are many possibilities for follow-up research.

Last modified:06 August 2021 2.56 p.m.
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