In June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found leisure reading in the United States is at an all time low. Last year, about 19 percent of Americans read for pleasure on a given day. This is a drop of more than 30 percent since 2004, according to the latest American Time Use Survey.1
What are people spending their time on? Is it value added community service? Increasing political activism? Attending worship services? No, people are spending more time on the highly addictive activity of mindless scrolling. Time spent watching TV also increased. Last year, the average American spent 10 times more time watching television than reading.2
Who is not reading? The results from Pew Research’s latest study yields few surprises. Adults without a high school diploma is the group who is least likely to have read a book. More than a quarter of people older than 50 haven’t read a book in the past year. Those with incomes under $30,000 annually are three times as likely not have read a book in the last 12 months.3
Libraries and reading are synonymous for many. The general public already links reading with libraries. We librarians need to extol the merits of reading wherever we go. We need to be the unapologetic champions of reading.
Many lament our changing society. People feel more isolated in a time of hyper social connection. The achievement gap continues to grow in spite of innovative new teaching approaches. Income disparities are growing. People spend an increasing amount of time scrolling through feeds on their phone and less and less time with literature.
And the results? A nation where mental illness is on the rise, where opioid use is epidemic, where both teens and senior citizens feel more alone, where social isolation is growing.
It’s time for libraries to re-embrace the “books” brand and loudly shout the benefits of reading. It may not be a magical panacea, but it is an actionable step we can take to improve society’s plight. Below are a few facts to help you spread the word on reading’s importance:
- Reading reduces stress. Just six minutes of reading will cut anxiety levels more than listening to music or going for a walk.4
- Reading increases literacy. The U.S. Department of Education found the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores.5
- Reading increases empathy. Studies show reading literary fiction increases a reader’s ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling.6
The American Library Association has a long history of advocating for reading. National Library Week was sparked by a 1957 survey found that only 17 percent of Americans were currently reading a book.7 ALA launched the READ campaign in 1985. In recent years, we have taken a slight step away from this priority – talking about how libraries transform our lives. We are redefining the library as a 21st century technology resource, promoting the many other services libraries provide. It may be time to shift back to emphasizing reading as priority number one.
- “Analysis | Leisure Reading in the U.S. Is at an All-time Low.” The Washington Post. June 29, 2018. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/leisure-reading-in-the-u-s-is-at-an-all-time-low/?utm_term=.d83d51a0d974.
- Perrin, Andrew. “Who Doesn’t Read Books in America?” Pew Research Center. March 23, 2018. Accessed September 23, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/23/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/.
- “Reading ‘can Help Reduce Stress’.” The Telegraph. March 30, 2009. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html.
- “Facts about Children’s Literacy.” National Education Association. Accessed September 23, 2018. http://www.nea.org/grants/facts-about-childrens-literacy.html.
- Chiaet, Julianne. “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.” Scientific American. October 04, 2013. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/.
- “’Wake Up and Read’ to ‘Libraries Lead’.” American Libraries Magazine. February 26, 2018. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/03/01/national-library-week-60th-anniversary-libraries-lead/.