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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Young Adults Are Still Reading...Shocking?

As reporter everywhere yesterday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report about the reading habits of 16 to 29 year olds.  Click here for the full report.

One of the the things that the mainstream media has found "shocking" in this report is that these 16-29 year olds are using the library in large numbers.

However, those of us who work in public libraries were not "shocked" by this data.  We know young people are coming to our libraries and our websites.  They are hooked on their smart phones and tablets and cannot afford to keep buying books.  They turn to us for content they can borrow.

We also know that since they are always looking at their smart phones that they have more time to read.  I see it with our patrons and staff in this age bracket.  They load books on their phones so that they can read whenever they have some downtime.

But there is a larger problem here, one I have been warning people about for years, and the mainstream media simply underscored it with their "shock."  The fact that those who create the mainstream media reports (who happen to be more in the 35-55 age group) were shocked that young people still use the library shows me that they are NOT using it.

Why should you care?  Well, these people are the leaders in our communities.  Those who run for election and, more importantly, those who vote.  I will be running for reelection to my local library board this Spring and have already turned in my candidate data sheet.  One of the areas of concern I identified is exactly this age group.  We need to get them to the library more than just to drop off their kids.  They need to understand the library is still relevant in their lives.

These media reports simply prove that, unfortunately, I am correct.  This age group does not visit the library for themselves.  If they did, the shock at the 16-29 year olds visiting would not be reported. As a member of this age group myself, I see this proven all too often.  I am constantly working to convince my friends that the library is useful to them.  When I succeed, and they actually go for themselves (not just for a kids' program), they also express "shock" at how "great" the library is.

Arrrrgh. It has happened more times than I can count.  It gets very frustrating.  I feel like I am making no headway.

The good news here is that we have only lost one generation.  The one behind them is loving the library.  But this also means that while the great work libraries have been doing building strong YA collections and services over the last 10 years has worked, it is now time to shift focus and get those 35-55 year olds back before they strike down more ballot initiatives.

Trivia Night at the Garv-Inn run by the RA Department of the BPL is one of those things we do to capture this age group. Our largest age group representation at these monthly events is in this 35-55 age range.  Trivia Night is fun, involves drinking, but is close to home.  It also makes the library look like we get them.  Low key hanging out with friend, a little bit of competition, and a whole lot of laughing.  I think it helps that Kathy and I are at the low end of this age group.  We are just the right age to be "cool" (to them at least), but not so young to be threatening.

We tried another yesterday.  In celebration of National Friends of the Library Week, the Friends opened a "Take A Book, Leave A Book" shelf at the commuter train station.  Pictured on the right, this shelf is there to offer free books, but more importantly, to remind adults that the library is there if they need it.  You can take a book for free at the train station, but if you want more, our address is there.  It is like a welcome wagon from the Friends to the community, saying, "It's okay to come to the library; but if you can't make it, we have brought a tiny bit of it to you."  I will be hanging signs about our upcoming ebook reader programs on the shelf too.

The point here, I am glad the Pew study came out.  It validates the money and effort libraries have been putting into our service to teens for the last decade.  It has worked; we got them hooked on us for life.  But now it is time to shift gears and work on the 35-55 year olds we have lost along the way.

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