A recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked questions about people’s reading habits and about where they live. Any guesses about what they found out? Do city mice read more than country mice? Do lots of people have library cards and still think libraries are important? Why do people say they read?
Well, 78% of Americans over the age of 16 say they read a book in the last year, and 79% of those asked said they read for pleasure. That’s 80% of the urbanites who responded and 71% of the rural residents. Americans read, on average, 17 books last year. That’s more than one a month. Pretty good numbers. About 58% of everyone surveyed has a library card and 69% say the library is important to them.
At SMCM 100% of the community has a library card (!). How many of you would say the library is important to you? How many of you read a book last year not for class or research, but for fun, to learn something, or to keep up with the news? Do you read a newspaper? Do you read?
Here a few more of those interesting numbers. 19% of those asked own an e-reader, and 93% of those asked read a print book in the past year (22% read an ebook and 14% read in both formats). And the study showed that age, education, and household income may determine your reading habits, not where you live.
So – what does it all mean? Maybe it means that formats matter, that libraries need to be sure we can offer opportunities to read in print, online, and using e-readers (and audio devices). Maybe it also means that we should be thrilled that people are reading, and they get why public libraries are so important. You may not know this but many librarians are feeling pretty insecure these days. Warnings of our impending obsolescence are everywhere and have been around for a long time [“The Obsolete Man,” Twilight Zone, June 2, 1961].
I think books, libraries, and librarians probably don’t have to worry too much about being unloved or obsolete any time soon. We want people to read, not because it keeps us employed. Because reading can help you find out how something works, or why we do the things we do, where we came from, where we might be going, or just let you escape from it all for a while.
How do you read? What do you read? Why do you read?