Sunday, November 4, 2012

Navy Reads: Conversation with the Creator II

by Bill Doughty

In a world of Hulu, Halo, Android, Facebook and Reddit, who has time to read a book ... and why bother?  

The new-and-improved Navy reading program, now known as Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program (CNO-PRP), shows why a commitment to literacy, education and critical thinking is still relevant, recognizing that a “book” today can be experienced not only on paper but also via Nook, Kindle or iPhone app.

The new reading program breathes online; lists are no longer tied to rank, some titles are presented on the program’s website “for further consideration,” and Sailors can even check out books electronically for loan through Navy Knowledge Online.

U.S. Naval War College (NWC) professor John Jackson, creator of Navy’s reading program, believes in promoting and encouraging reading as fun.  The program’s goal is to create a “culture of reading” on ships and at shore commands.  We first interviewed Jackson in July 2009.  In this October 2012 conversation he speaks about how the program has evolved for the digital generation.

Professor Jackson, the biggest change to the list is the alignment to Adm. Greenert’s tenets -- “warfighting first, operate forward and be ready.”  How did the CNO’s Sailing Directions guide the selection of books for the list?

Professor Jackson and CNO Adm. Greenert
When CNO published his Sailing Directions, he was providing his vision for the thrust that all Navy activities and actions should take. They provided a shorthand list of priorities. Since the CNO-PRP is designed to help develop the professionalism of all Sailors, it was relatively easy to identify books which aligned with the three tenets.

What was the CNO’s direct role?

The CNO personally reviewed and approved the titles recommended by the CNO-PRP Advisory Group (which includes U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval War College, Naval History and Heritage Command, and the Senior Enlisted Academy). He discussed the program at the all Navy Flag Officer and Senior Executive Service Conference in October 2011 and asked these Navy leaders to provide input on what they would like to see in the program. Seven of the 18 books on the “Essential” list were recommended by Navy Flags.

With the new structure, will there no longer be collections based on rank or position (for example, no junior enlisted collection or division leaders collection)?

The CNO-PRP Management office at NWC received some significant level of feedback that said that the rank-based book categories were considered too restrictive, and may have left the impression that some books were too difficult for some Sailors to read. While the rank based categories were always merely advisory in nature, and all books were always available to all Sailors, we decided to eliminate the rank designations, and allow Sailors to make their own decisions on which books they will read.

A Sailor visits her library in 2012.
Does the list consider the skills and competencies in the previous list (for example, leadership, critical thinking and management and strategic planning)?

The skills identified in the previous program are still the key competencies we believe need to be mastered by 21st century Sailors. The CNO-PRP Advisory Group specifically looked at books which addressed these skills, but in order to simplify the program matrix, we have stepped back from listing them in each case.

Was it difficult to limit the number of books on the essential list and recommended list, considering the many great books published on naval history, strategy, etc.?

You are absolutely correct! There are literally thousands of great books out there, and it would be easy to identify 100 titles that are particularly valuable. Restricting the CNO-PRP to 42 titles allows the program to be more manageable. It should be remembered that the Navy is the only service that actually buys and distributes the books in its Professional Reading Program. We don’t want just a list, we want an accessible program.

Sailors read online in their ship's library in 2004.
It must be personally rewarding to see the program you created and managed from the beginning continue to flourish. In our first interview you shared a few anecdotes about how CNO-PRP has been (literally) taken aboard by Sailors. Do you have any other examples to share about the impact the reading program has had?

I am honored to still be in charge of this terrific program. I have seen it prosper under three CNOs, and ADM Greenert’s level of involvement has been remarkable. It is truly HIS program, and it has his full backing in every way. I am always pleased when we get emails from the Fleet asking for more books, telling us how the Program is used aboard ship for General Military Training, and telling us about shipboard essay contests based on CNO-PRP books. I also find it interesting that the Navy Exchange has sold nearly 100,000 books directly to Sailors who want to build their own personal libraries. I have been associated with the Navy for over 43 years, as a student, a commissioned officer, and now as a DON civilian employee, and I can tell you that I have gotten greater satisfaction from managing the CNO-PRP than I have from any other job I’ve had in the Navy. I think the program really makes a difference in the intellectual development of our Sailors, and hopefully contributes to the professionalism of our Navy. You can’t do better than that!

Should the CNO-PRP still be considered a springboard? Is Naval Institute Press a good option for getting other titles?

The 42 books in the CNO-PRP are merely a starting point. They should be a springboard to greater study and reading. The Naval Institute Press has a huge number of good books available. I would also recommend that readers seek out the Naval War College Press, which publishes a quarterly journal, The Naval War College Review, and a number of books and monographs on maritime subjects.

How are you progressing in the era of e-books, other audio versions and social media integration of the reading program?

One of the primary directions we received from CNO was to embrace e-books as a growing format for reading books, magazines and articles of interest. The Navy General Library Program on Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) provides hundreds of books and magazines that can the download (on a loan basis) by authorized users. It must be recognized that not all books are available in electronic format, and some formats are not compatible with some reading devices. We are still in the early days in the electronic publishing industry, but the CNO-PRP will work hard to use electronic books as much as possible. We still value hard-copy however, and that is why we have just purchased 22,000 books for distribution around the Fleet.

In our first interview you responded passionately about the value of reading in giving Sailors the knowledge needed to sharpen their fighting spirit and giving us all a better perspective on history.  You said, “good books entertain, illustrate, and educate.” How does reading make us better citizens of our nation and world?

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "Learn from the mistakes of others... You can't live long enough to make them all yourself!" I think this is the essence of why you want to read and learn from the successes (and mistakes) of others. Books are a treasure trove of knowledge, gathered across the eons, all waiting to be discovered by the curious Sailors of today. The CNO-PRP is committed to making great books available, wherever Sailors work and live.