The American Reader

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, more than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library. At the youngest end of the spectrum, high schoolers, ages 16-17, and college-aged young adults (18-24) are especially likely to have read a book or used the library in the past 12 months.

Americans ages 16 and older encounter and consume more books, as e-books change the reading landscape and the borrowing services of libraries. Although library usage patterns may often be influenced by school assignments, readers’ interest in the possibilities of mobile technology may point the way toward opportunities of further engagement with libraries later in life, says the report.

Among the main findings:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook
  • Americans who read e-books under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).
  • 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%)
  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.
  • 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library. Among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.

Among those in the under-30 age group, three distinct clusters emerge:

High schoolers (ages 16-17)

  • High schoolers are especially reliant on the library for their reading and research needs. They are more likely than other age groups to have used the library in the past year, especially to have checked out print books or received research assistance. In addition, they are more likely than others to get reading recommendations at the library. 
  • Just over half of high schoolers consider the library “very important” or “somewhat important” to them and their families, compared with roughly two-thirds of older Americans. High schoolers are significantly more likely to say that they would be interested in checking out pre-loaded e-readers from their local public library if this service was offered

College-aged adults (ages 18-24) show interesting shifts in their reading habits compared with high schoolers:

  • They have the highest overall reading rate of any age group
  • Exhibit an increased interest in e-books and audiobooks compared with younger readers
  • Are more likely than high schoolers to purchase their books, but are also more likely to borrow books from friends and family

Adults in their late twenties (ages 25-29) exhibit different patterns when compared with younger age groups.

  • They are less likely to have read a book in the past year
  • Those who do read books are more likely to have purchased their most recent book.
  • Start to express a greater appreciation for libraries in general, with almost three-quarters saying that the library is important to them and their families

Americans under age 30 are more likely than older adults to do reading of any sort (including books, magazines, journals, newspapers, and online content) for work or school, or to satisfy their own curiosity on a topic. About eight in ten say they read for professional or educational reasons, more than older age groups. Three-quarters of younger Americans say they read for pleasure or to keep up with current events.

78% of Americans ages 16 and older had read at least one book in any format in the previous 12 months, including 83% of those under age 30.High schoolers (ages 16-17) and college-aged adults (ages 18-24), along with adults in their thirties, are especially likely to have read a book in the past year, while adults ages 65 and older are the least likely to have read a book in that time span.

Book Readers By Age (Any Format In Past 12 Months)

Reader’s Age

% Read In Last 12 Months

16-17

86%

18-24

88

25-29

76

30-39

84

40-49

79

50-64

77

65+

68

Source: Pew Research, October 2012

A majority of e-book readers under age 30 consume their e-books on a desktop or laptop computer; the second most popular method is by cell phone (41% read their e-books this way). 23% of e-book readers ages 16-29 read e-books on an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook, and just 16% read e-books on a tablet computer.

Among Americans who read a book in any format in the past year, 45% say they read a book “yesterday.” High schoolers, college-aged adults, and those ages 65 and older are more likely than other age groups to say that they read a print book on the day prior to the survey.By comparison, adults in their late twenties, thirties, and forties are more likely to say that the book they read yesterday was in an e-book or audiobook format.

Overall, 43% of Americans (and 47% of those between the ages of 16 and 29) read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers.

  • 30% of these e-content readers (including 40% of those under age 30) say that they now spend more time reading than they used to due to the availability of e-content.
  • 28% of e-content readers over age 30 say they are reading more now.

For more, please visit Pew Research here.

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