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Texting Generation More Likely To Read Books and Use the Library Than Older Americans

In what might come as a shock to those whose prime occupation is bemoaning the literacy of the current generation of young adults, new research has revealed that Americans aged 16 to 29 actually read more books and use the library more than those aged 30 and up.

Reading Habits
The research, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that not only is the texting generation (aged 16 to 29) using technology to access books and other library resources more frequently than older Americans, they're also dominating in traditional media as well.

A full 75 percent of Americans aged 16 to 29 reported reading a book in print within the last year versus just 64 percent of older adults. (That jumps to 85 percent for those in the 16 to 17 age bracket.)

E-book readership is not nearly as high, but it is on the rise for both younger and older Americans.

  • In the 16–17 age group, 28 percent read an e-book in the last year compared with 13 percent the previous year.
  • In the 18–24 group, 31 percent read e-books in the last 12 months versus 24 percent the previous year.
  • The 25–29 group was at 31 percent as well for the last 12 months, 27 percent in the prior year.
  • E-book readership peaked in the 30–49 group at 41 percent, up from 25 percent the previous year.
  • The numbers dropped off in the 50–64 group: 23 percent this year, 19 percent the previous year.
  • And among the oldest group, 65-plus, 20 percent read an e-book in the last 12 months versus 12 percent the previous year.

There was not a statistically significant difference in the average number of books read by each age group among the total.

Library Use
A significant 86 percent of younger Americans have visited a library in person at some point in their lives, 58 percent in the last year. (Sixty-five percent of young adults have library cards, the researchers found.) Almost half of the younger demographic (48 percent) have accessed a library Web site, 28 percent in the last year. And, according to the research, 18 percent have accessed a library Web site using a mobile device in the last year.

In the older age group, those figures vary. Among those aged 30 to 49, 87 percent have visited a library at some point in their lives, and 59 percent have done so in the last year. However, in the 50- to 64-year-od demographic, that falls to 82 percent who have ever visited a library and 51 percent who have done so in the last year. Among the 65-plus crowd, only 78 percent have ever visited a library, and only 40 percent have done so in the last year.

Younger people also tend to use their library facilities more fully, according to the research. All age groups tend to use the library for browsing and borrowing books about equally. A little less than three-quarters of all Americans who have been to the library in the last 12 months have done those activities.

Of those who've been to a library in the last year, older adults tend to do certain other activities more frequently than younger Americans, including getting help from a librarian (53 percent versus 40 percent), bringing children or teens to events (44 percent versus 35 percent), borrowing a DVD or video (43 percent versus 33 percent), borrowing an audio book (18 percent versus 14 percent), and borrowing a music CD (18 percent versus 10 percent).

Younger people, meanwhile, research topics of interest more often (60 percent versus 51 percent); hang around and listen to music, read books, study, or watch videos (60 percent versus 45 percent); and use a research database (51 percent versus 45 percent).

Among the entire population who visited a library in the last year, 26 percent had connected to the Internet at the library, either over a wired network or using the library's WiFi. That figure shot up to 38 percent among 16- to 29-year-olds.

The vast majority of all age groups indicated they consider libraries important or very important to their communities (well beyond 80 percent in all age groups), and an overwhelming 98 percent had a positive response to their experiences at libraries.

Library Expectations
The researchers also asked younger Americans what they think libraries should definitely offer in terms of services.

The vast majority said libraries should coordinate with schools more and offer free literacy programs (87 percent in both cases).

Other services younger Americans said libraries should implement:

  • Have more comfortable spaces (64 percent);
  • Separate spaces for different services (57 percent);
  • Offer a broader selection of e-books (54 percent); and
  • Offer more interactive learning experiences (53 percent).

Only 44 percent said libraries should definitely move most of their services online, and 41 percent said libraries should make most services automated. Forty-one percent also said libraries should help users digitize materials.

When asked, "How important is free library access to computers and the Internet to the community?" the vast majority of all age groups responde that it was "very important": 77 percent for the 16–29 group, 81 percent for the 30-49 and 50–64 groups, and 68 percent for the 65-plus group.

Compete details are available in the Pew Internet library research portal at

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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