The Washington Post this week featured an article on a new study, which confirms with data what we’ve pretty much known for years now: American teens are increasingly “texting, scrolling and using social media” instead of reading books.
“In their free time, American adolescents are cradling their devices hours each day rather than losing themselves in print or long-form media,” the Post reports. “In fact, 1 in 3 U.S. high school seniors did not read a book for pleasure in 2016. In the same time period, 82% of 12th-graders visited sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram every day.”
The study, Trends in U.S. Adolescents’ Media Use, 1976–2016, was published recently in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. And while many forms of entertainment are falling victim to teens’ social media and tech usage, the study reports that the decline in “reading print media” has been especially steep.
On the American Psychological Association website, one of the study’s authors, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, noted that in the 1970s, about 60% of high school seniors reported reading a book, magazine or newspaper every single day. By 2016, that number had dropped to 16%. High school seniors also reported reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976—and approximately a third “did not read a book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.”
And that’s not all. “In the early 1990s, 33% of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper almost every day. By 2016, that number was only 2%.” In the release, Twenge said the steep decline in reading was a surprise, because it’s “so convenient to read books and magazines on electronic devices like tablets.”
Meanwhile, a post this week on the Pew Research Center blog also suggested that teens are spending more time on spend on their screens. According to the Pew report, some “54% of U.S. teens say they spend too much time on their cellphones, and two-thirds of parents express concern over their teen’s screen time. But, the post smartly notes, their parents “face their own challenges of device-related distraction.”
The Pew report is drawn from a survey released this spring on “Teens, Social Media Technology 2018.” Among that survey’s findings is that the challenge to reading from social media and device usage is going to be a persistent one. Some 95% of teens say they have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online “almost constantly.”
The report on adolescent reading is the latest chapter in a long-running narrative on the decline of reading. In July of 2004, at a press conference held at the New York Public Library, then NEA chairman Dana Gioia unveiled a report titled Reading at Risk, which, Gioia said, pointed to “an activity [literary reading] going out of existence.”
Three years later, in 2007, the NEA published another widely discussed report To Read or Not to Read, that documented the further decline of reading in America. In his foreword to that report, Gioia warned that the decline in reading was not just a cultural issue, or of consequence only to the literary and arts communities, but a serious national problem.
“To Read or Not To Read is not an elegy for the bygone days of print culture, but instead is a call to action—not only for parents, teachers, librarians, writers, and publishers, but also for politicians, business leaders, economists, and social activists,” Gioia wrote. “If, at the current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks.”
That decline, however, has continued. In August of 2016, for example, the NEA reported that just 43% of adults read at least one “work of literature” for pleasure in the previous year—the lowest share since the NEA started tracking reading habits in the early 1980s. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to propose the elimination of arts-related agencies like the the NEA and the NEH, as well as all federal library funding.
In today’s climate of fake news and “truth is not truth,” Gioia’s warnings a decade ago seem eerily prescient. And, Gioia’s conclusions about the impact of a diminished reading culture in America are shared by the authors of this most recent study of adolescent reading. “There’s no lack of intelligence among young people, but they do have less experience focusing for longer periods of time and reading long-form text,” Twenge said in her statement. “Being able to read long-form text is crucial for understanding complex issues and developing critical thinking skills. Democracies need informed voters and involved citizens who can think through issues, and that might be more difficult for people of all ages now that online information is the norm.”
Speaking of social media, it can also be great marketing for books: The New York Public Library this week announced a new initiative to make “some of the greatest stories ever written more accessible to every New Yorker and Instagram user.” The program launched on August 22 with a newly digitized version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Gary Price has a nice item about the program over at InfoDocket.
According to a report in USA Today, in the first few days, nearly 40,000 people read Alice in Wonderland on NYPL’s Instagram: “I think it’s marvelous,” Christoper Platt, chief branch library officer for the New York Public Library, says of the reaction. “People are engaging with a classic book and talking to their friends about it. That’s great.”
USA Today, this week also featured a reminder that libraries offer more than print books.
Meanwhile, in the U.K., university librarians are apparently creating Spotify playlists for students. “There’s silent study if [students] need it, but we take into account that people prefer different environments to study in,” Helen Anderson, who works at Newcastle University’s library, told The Daily Mail.
Rakuten Kobo (sister company of library e-book vendor OverDrive) wants to make borrowing library e-books easier. The company this week announced that its new devices will feature “one-touch public library lending” for those with library cards at an OverDrive-powered library. That is, of course, if the title you want is available.
In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo looks at the simmering controversy over Google’s potential re-entry into China with a restricted search engine. “Make no mistake,” said Michael Posner, a professor of ethics and finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “This will be a huge victory for the Chinese government and anyone else who wants to severely restrict the internet.”
Also in The New York Times, comes an article on how Facebook may have helped fuel Anti-Refugee attacks in Germany.
We were on vacation last week, but this one is worth going back to highlight: American Libraries reports that the ALA has officially rescinded a controversial revision to the Library Bill of Rights which proposed that public libraries not exclude “hate groups” from using library meeting rooms and facilities to discuss their activities.
The inclusion of “hate groups” was adopted at the ALA Annual Conference in June, and touched off a heated debate in the profession, and calls for the ALA council to reverse course. (School Library Journal has an in-depth, accurate, and balanced piece on the debate). In response, American Libraries reports, on August 16 that the ALA Council voted overwhelmingly to withdraw the change. In the final tally, 140 ALA council members voted to rescind, while just four voted not to rescind, and two abstained. The Library Bill of Rights will now revert to the 1991 version of the Meeting Rooms interpretation, which was in effect until the change was voted in at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference.
Also via American Libraries, the ALA continues to voice its opposition to adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, joining a range of groups in arguing that such a question “would suppress Census response, distorting the statistics and making them less informative.”
Here’s some good news, via a local CBS affiliate—it looks like Stockton, California, is getting a new state-of-the-art library. “The library is expected to have a learning center with an area for children, a space for teenagers and plenty of books. It will also be a recreation center with a gym, kitchen amenities and enough space for community meetings and events.”
And via a local NBC affiliate, a couple in the Denver area found an old library card while renovating their home.The juvenile library card was made out to Hazel Postlewait, and dated with an expiration date of May 31, 1929. And, it seems, Hazel had some late returns: one of the exchanges on the card was tabbed with a $0.04 fee.
Editors Note: The Week in Libraries will be off next week, returning with the September 7 issue of PW’s Preview for Librarians. Happy Labor Day weekend!