The chart above comes from a recent post on The Atlantic hilariously labeled, “The Next Time Someone Says the Internet Killed Reading Books, Show Them This Chart”. The numbers come from a 2005 Gallup survey which will provide a great baseline for re-doing the survey in a social media and Kindle-Nook-iPad-eBook world that has developed since then. I would be curious to see if/how the trend lines would continue (especially since Gallup has a wee bit of a gap from 1957 to 1990). There was one question whose results caught my eye so I grabbed a screenshot of it.
I’d be very curious to find out what the breakdown would be for the “based on a recommendation from someone you know” and “by browsing a bookstore or library”. Given the power of the recommendation, this might be something to consider expanding and supporting as much as possible. It’s something that can be wielded as leverage in current book and eBook market since audience reach matters.
Both the article and the survey are worth reading through even if the latter is a bit dated and the former draws conclusions on that data. Combined with the recent Pew Internet findings about American’s general reading habits (2012) and the National Endowment for the Arts finding a rise in adult reading habits (2009), I think it is fair to say that reading is not exactly an endangered activity.
I have to confess as to being cynical and somewhat hostile when I saw stuff like the Milwaukee Library advertising campaign (pictured to the right) that is getting passed around recently. It reminded me of a Hugh MacLeod cartoon which reads “advertising is the cost of being boring”. Reading, as indicated above, isn’t really the problem. So what’s the goal here? To get people to borrow books instead of buying them to read? It makes me what the answer would be to a follow-up question, “And then what?” How does this work for the library in the long term?
I think my hostility comes from the often observed cyclical two step that starts with the well worn rebuttal line “libraries are more than books” which is then followed by advertising and/or advocacy that directly connects the library to books. It’s absolutely maddening to watch books be simultaneously embraced and pushed away in a schizophrenic display of identity. This probably says more about me than the advertising campaign, but it’s still my gut reaction.
I do think reading is an excellent library brand overall and that the expansion of reading over the last century puts the library in a good spot to capitalize on that trend. Whether libraries (especially public libraries) will or not is an entirely different matter. Can the heavy representation of the reader market be leverage as the institution deals with an increasingly frayed publishing market? Is that where the real pull exists?