Read-it project


‘Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic: an online conference’, 3-4.11.2020

We are delighted to announce that registration is now open for The Open University History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) online conference, ‘Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic’, 3-4 November 2020, which is supported by The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP).

The conference will be held online via Microsoft Teams, and is free to all, but prior registration is required. Registration is now open through Eventbrite here and the conference webpage is available here 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on all aspects of lives, but nowhere has this been more visible than in the conflation of public and private workspace. Despite our increasingly (almost exhaustively) online lives, the material book is now firmly back in focus, and not just as a backdrop to endless Zoom meetings – although even on that score, the wittily parodic and highly insightful Bookcase Credibility Twitter account, which has amassed over 77,000 followers in under two months, has given a new lease of life to social media ‘#shelfies’. In our quarantine confined, digitally mediated existence, we literally are what we read, and our cultural capital is now is on display to the whole world, in material form. As Amanda Hess has noted in The New York Times, the credibility bookcase is the ‘quarantine’s hottest accessory’, and one for which there is no E-Book equivalent. In the semiotics of the pandemic, the well-curated bookcase has become a manifestation of our mental state, and perhaps for the first time during this barber-less interlude in human history, our books are more important than our hair. And yet, as John Quiggin points out, this newly respectable flaunting of cultural capital can entrench existing socio-economic inequalities; the personal library has always been an overt display of wealth as well as knowledge. This conference will ask speakers to critically examine this particular cultural phenomenon, brought to public attention by the pandemic.  

As part of the conference, we will be curating an online gallery of images of bookshelves and reading during the pandemic – you can contribute your images via Twitter, by sending them to us @eureadit, with the hashtags #pandemicreading and #pandemicbookshelves, or submitting them to our contribution portal at