LitHits | University of Oxford


LitHits is an app (for mobile devices and the web) that breaks down barriers to reading by providing short, unabridged excerpts of literature to the user based on how much time they have to read.

Professor Kirsten Shepherd-BarrProfessor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
The unique feature of the app is its light-touch curation of each excerpt, a 2-3 sentence introduction that allows the reader to read the chosen excerpt without needing any knowledge of the full text from which it is taken. The reader can thus sample literary texts just as they would food or clothes.

LitHits is a trailblazing entrepreneurship project in the humanities and the first in English here at Oxford. It is modelling ways that a humanities subject can engage with business partners and transform its high-quality research into a cultural product that will serve public interest.

LitHits builds on the founders’ professional expertise in researching and teaching literature over decades combined with research on digital reading, publishing technologies and innovations, and the potential for AI (specifically machine-learning and natural language processing) to help LitHits scale its library of excerpts and aid its human curation.

Our research has highlighted several key factors. One is that, far from being an endangered activity threatened by the rise of mobile phones and the Internet, reading is on the rise and is thriving, but people need more help in fitting it into their busy lives and in finding something good to read in the first place. Another factor is that, despite the proliferation of recommendation sites like Goodreads and Amazon, there is still no way to sample literature in an expertly guided way.  A third finding is that, although bibliotherapy is a fast-growing trend, reading is not just about soothing, calming, or ‘fixing’ a psychological problem, but can be most beneficial when most cognitively, imaginatively, and emotionally stimulating. Finally, our research indicates that while reading can be a solitary pastime, it can also be a highly social, interactive activity with tremendous mental health and wellbeing benefits, particularly for vulnerable or more isolated groups such as the elderly. LitHits can thus make a positive intervention in many ways.

LitHits is a social enterprise that has been funded by UCSF, BEP and the Van Houten Fund. It is currently seeking external investment. The small and closely knit LitHits team consists of Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (founder), Dr Alexandra Paddock (lead editor and curator), and David Gilbey (Project Manager), in collaboration with Oxford University Innovation (Chris Fellingham).