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Thursday, August 23, 2007

AP poll of American Reading Habits

According to an AP-Ipsos poll released on 8/22/07, one in four Americans have read no books in the past year. No books, as in ZERO! The biggest arguments as to why people aren't reading deals with the general complaint that these people have no free time, and what free time they do have they fill with other things. Here is the link to the CNN.com article about the poll. Read and judge for yourself.

I do not dispute the numbers this poll came up with. In fact, many of their conclusions I see corroborated each time I sit at the RA desk in my library: Midwesterns read more (check), Democrats and Liberals read more than Conservatives (check), Women and seniors read the most (check), popular fiction, histories, biogrpahies and mysteries take up about 50% of leisure reading (check) and 21% of leisure reading is done with romance novels (check, although I suspect that number is even higher).

What I do dispute however, is the "oh well" attitude that accompanies polls like this. There is a book for just about everyone out there. If a "too busy to read" adult got the right book in his or her hands, s/he would be hooked. Libraries need to work hard to encourage leisure reading among adults. Get them when they are bringing their children in, go to their Rotary Club or PTA meetings. Sitting by and complaining that no one is reading anymore does no good.

Those of us in positions to influence people and push them toward reading need to do something. For example, many people come to my library just to access the Internet. After engaging these patrons in casual conversation over time, there are now a handful who stop and my desk on their way upstairs to use the Internet. I pull them each 3-5 books which they can pick up and check out on their way out of the library. Hopefully, that number will continue to grow with effort on my part. This is one small way to raise the number of non-readers.

Most American Adults are not aware of books beyond the best seller list or the classics they read in school. Although best sellers are a great place to start, there is so much more out there. Just like Harry Potter captured so many children's attention and led them to other authors and books, so too could the right Harlen Coben thriller or even a Frank Miller graphic novel get a busy working adult to reconnect with the world of books.

Finally, this too busy argument leads us back to the case for audio books. I-pods and car CD players can be used on long commutes or while doing household chores allowing adults to "read" a book for fun.

Studies show that people who read as they age help to keep their mind in shape and running well. Also, the best way to get children interested in reading is for them to see their own care givers doing it.

So go visit your library and talk to the people there about what you like in a good book. And, if you work in a library, approach that busy mom with the two kids tugging at her pants leg and remind her of all the books we have for her at the library too.

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