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« Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain | Main | Slow learners and technology »

Why aren't we reading more?

The infographic above makes the rounds on Facebook now and then. It's been debunked and the author has created a second version that documents the new sources of his selected data. I expect such clickbait rarely garners much scrutiny from many Facebook users, especially those looking for confirmation bias related to poor public education.

So I was grateful to read the following:

The Pew Research Center conducted a recent poll on the reading habits of Americans and their preferred vehicles. The results might surprise you. The Digital Reader brought this interesting information to our attention in their article, “One in Five Americans Have Listened to an Audiobook, One in Four Have Read an eBook.”

Let’s start with the basics. About three-quarters of Americans have read a book in the past 12 months in any format. This percentage has remained largely unchanged since 2012. Print books also remain the most popular format for reading and e-book readers stay steady at 26%. Both of these are similar to those from a survey conducted in 2016. However, there has been a modest but statistically significant increase in the share of Americans who read audiobooks, going from 14% to 18%. Melody K. Smith, Trends in Readership, TaxoDiary, March 26, 2018

I hope the Pew study referenced by Smith helps reduce the general perception that Americans are reading less. That schools are turning out graduates who can read, but don't read. That we are so enamored of Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, etc. that reading complex and lengthy narratives is becoming less and less common, with the dark prediction that Google actually is making us stupid

So that's the positive interpretation - we as a nation are still reading books despite the pull of our devices and the junk we access with them. 

The curmudgeon in me, however asks, shouldn't we seeing a higher percentage of our population reading? Damn near everyone has a smart phone and damn near every library now has free downloadable e-books and audio books. Amazon and Gutenberg and a host of other places have free books. Access problems to a physcial library or the abilty to purchase books should no longer be an issue for an ever higher percentage of the population.

Getting more of our citizens to read more starts with our school libraries. We must be actively teaching our students to use their devices to access digital reading/listening materials in both our school and public library collections (which makes partnering with our public libraries more important than ever), as well as having the ability to find free books online.

School librarians, are we seriously accepting this responsibility? Next Pew study, let's work to see readership percentages go up.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thank-you for this post; as a school librarian, it's something I ponder often. I focussed a lot of energy this year with various reading promotions to push our print collection but you are absolutely correct in saying, "We must be actively teaching our students to use their devices to access digital reading/listening materials in both our school and public library collections." This post has encouraged me to make this a focus for the 2018/19 school year.

April 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEsther

Hi Esther,

I hope you keep up the good work in getting kids to read in ALL formats, but I appreciate you undertaking the challenge of promoting digital reading materials as well.

Thanks for commenting!


April 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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