Reading Between the Lines: Alumna Kim Anderson

30 September 2011

Kim Anderson loves a good book.

Despite a long and diverse career in the media and an ongoing involvement with the University of Sydney, this proud alumna continues to find satisfaction in her successful online creation, literary hub The Reading Room.

After early challenges gaining support for the site, the interactive forum was launched in 2009. In a global society rapidly becoming more reliant on online media, Kim believes the creation of The Reading Room could not have been timelier for readers, authors and publishers alike.

"What we really want is for people to be able to discover new books," Kim says. "Particularly as audiences are not going into bookshops as much as they did in the past and we've seen book chains like Borders close down. Our role is to provide a way for publishers to connect with their audiences and a way for readers to discover new books and new authors, so we see ourselves as serving those dual purposes."

The Reading Room is a life-log of your reading. It allows members to create their own reading lists and share these with others, and it provides access to expert reviews as well as providing recommendations and updates about the current bestselling books on the market.

While seeming an obvious idea in hindsight, Kim says she it was her love of reading and her experience in online that led her to create a place where like-minded readers could meet online to discuss and share their passion for books.

"Having worked in media companies all my life I wanted to do something that really took me back to grass roots. Because I'd done so much online, I could see that there wasn't much around for readers, and I thought: I really want a place where I can go and discover new books from other people. I decided I should just leap in and do it - so I did."

From these relatively humble beginnings, The Reading Room now caters to more than 200,000 members worldwide. The broad appeal of literature translates into the similarly broad demographic of the website, with members from dozens of countries using the forums and reading lists to share their love of books.

"We have a global audience, so we wanted the site to be global from day one," Kim says. "We loved the idea that someone in Germany could be talking to someone in the US about a German writer, or an Australian could be talking to someone in China. We made it very clear that anyone in the world who could read English could sign up."

However, as The Reading Room continues to grow, languages will become less of a barrier.

"We actually have a lot of European language data on the site as well, but we felt we needed to learn to walk before we could run. It's still early days but we're very much community-focussed."

After completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney and then serving as a Fellow of Senate from March 2004 to February 2011, Kim knows how important it is to maintain a sense of community in life.

"I studied Arts ... and I thought I was so lucky to have attended the University, and to have had such an amazing world opened up to me," Kim says. "I was a member of Senate for seven years, and I think I have to say that it was a huge honour and I continue to think about ways in which I can assist the University in the future. It's an inspirational place."

While her role in the Senate may have come to a close for now, Kim continues to advocate for the rights of students to a thorough, and thoroughly modern, education.

"I'm very keen to ensure that the University is able to embrace electronic technology, particularly in the dissemination of coursework, access to research, and the output from its very talented academics."

Within this passion for education and the utilising of technology lies the spark for TheReading, which continues to expand. However, while books may be moving to more online outlets, Kim still believes in the power of good customer service.

"We want to foster community in a trusted environment, where you access as much information about authors and books as you can and at the same time get good book recommendations from members, authors and by matching technology," she says. "You don't go into a bookshop and say to the customer next to you, 'what should I read?' But you might ask the person who is running the store and recognises you as a regular customer, or you may just browse the shelves, in our case, the shelves of others who have like-minded bookshelves.

Now an ex-Fellow of Senate, Kim is hoping to find more time to just sit back and enjoy more reading. With database now containing more than 6 million records, maybe we can, too.

The Reading Room can be accessed at:

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208

Email: 0e0a4301562a34381e1d7002100b2a0b2054550b306f0a1b