More Young Americans Are Reading, New Study Finds

Although they’re frequently criticized for not reading anything longer than 140 characters, a new study from Pew Research Center shows younger Americans are more likely to read books and use their local library than older adults.

Researchers at Pew surveyed young peoples’ reading habits and library use over the past year as part of their Internet and American Life Project. The study found eight in 10 Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year, compared to seven in 10 adults in general. The report also found that 60 percent of Americans under 30 had used their library in the past year.

The study found high schoolers aged 16-17 are especially reliant on libraries. They are the most likely to have used a library in the past year, and they are more likely than any other group surveyed to get reading recommendations at the library. College-aged adults aged 18-24 had the highest overall reading rate of any age group, and they expressed the most interest in e-readers. Adults aged 25-29 were the least likely to have used a library in the past year, but nearly three quarters of the group said the library was important to them and their families.

The study also surveyed how young adults felt about e-books and other reading devices, and they found that most don’t want e-books to replace printed books.

Kathryn Zickuhr, the main author of the study, said young Americans see e-books and print books as part of the “same general eco-system,” but e-books are seen more as an item of convenience than a tool to replace printed books, she said. Readers said the main appeal of e-books was being able to read them in line for lunch, or when they’re waiting for class to start.

Zickuhr said one young reader bought the books he loved the most in multiple formats. He loved the Harry Potter and Song of Fire and Ice series, so he owned them both in electronic and print formats so he could read them at any time.

The study acknowledges that young peoples’ reading patterns and library use may be influenced by school book requirements and study habits, but their interest in e-books may give libraries a way to keep young people interested.

Young people said in the survey they’re interested in pre-loaded e-readers, which have popular titles already loaded onto the device. Other libraries are trying to cater to young people by hosting events targeted to their age group, or even building special areas for young adults in the library.

The Portage County Public Library in Wisconsin is one of many libraries undergoing rapid renovations to update its appeal. It now offers a variety of new services, including e-book downloads, tablets, Nintendo DS games, and MP3 players.

“The library certainly still has books,” said Deb McCabe, the assistant director. “But we also have downloadable books, e-books, subscriptions to a lot of databases, and jobs databases.”

Charles Danner, the technical support librarian, said about 2 percent of the library’s book check-outs are e-books, but that number is expected to grow. Unfortunately, the subscriptions the library uses charges more for multiple copies of an e-book to be checked out at one time, meaning if a title is in higher demand, it costs the library more money.