Another Reading Study Gets it Wrong
Amy Alessio, Teen Coordinator at the Schaumburg (IL) Township District Library is a well-known YA advocate and friend. She forwarded to me an August 21st CNN piece about yet another survey about book reading in America. Surprise, surprise the AP-IPSOS survey of adult readers said a full quarter of American read no books at all in the past year, and the "typical person" said he or she had read four or five books. It is true, as the article went on to say, that (outside of one day in July) bookstore sales have been down all year. And I hear hear tell that the NEA has a new survey due out in September showing similar alarming trends in younger readers. But I still think these articles have it wrong.
First of all — and you all know this far better than I do — library circulation of print materials to both adults and younger readers is up in many parts of the country. In other words, book store sales are not a good indication of book reading, just of book sales. Perhaps people are feeling that they would rather spend money on a new ipod download, while getting their books at the library. Just once I would like a reporter holding a new survey of book reading in his or her hands to check with librarians — who after all have both precise information on circulation and annecdotal information on the experiences and interests of readers. But then we get back to the point I keep making — reading is not just book reading, and not just reading a book cover to cover. Reading is also finding information, ideas, art, on the internet, or in magazines, or in reference books. Indeed, I strongly suspect that many of those who said they have not "read" a book have in fact used, consulted, dipped into many books or magazines during the year — to find recipes, check out travel destinations, research business strategies, etc.
It may well be that the older forms of print — newspapers, magazines, books — are (at least at just this moment) under pressure from the coolness factor of other forms of writing — websites, emails, cds, ims. There is some loss in this, certainly, and it is well worth investigating what it means to teenagers, say, to read the exact same material online, on screen, or on a printed page. I’d love to see some studies on that. But that is not a question about reading per se, but rather about forms of delivery. My own sense is we need to find out what books do best, find out what digital forms do best, and marry them. So lets stop getting it wrong again, and again, and again, and begin to figure out what is really going on all around us.