16 February 2020

Americans who haven't read a book in the past year

Data from the Pew Research Center:
Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 8 to Feb. 7 [2019]...

The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months is higher today than it was nearly a decade ago – though there has been some fluctuation over this time period. Today, 27% of adults say they have not read any books in the past year, up from 19% in 2011, but identical to the share who said this in 2015...

The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. In a 2016 survey, we found that Hispanics, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000 and those who have a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school are the most likely to report they have never been to a public library.


  1. The complete absence of recreational reading of what are normally called books (I'm a librarian, so I have to be precise in my terminology here), is a major problem at my college.

    One treatment I have been advocating for is to visit English classes with carts of leisure books and the mobile circulation app on an iPad. If a professor will give me 15 minutes, I'll get some students reading.

    One of my fantasies: before students graduate, I'd like for a representative of the local public library system to visit and get students signed up for public library cards. Or, even better, a tour at a local public library. So as we do library orientations for new students in our first-year experience classes, we hand over our graduating students to the public library system with a formal, intentional transition activity.

  2. On the plus side, people are visiting libraries. I actually expected the numbers to be much lower.


    I loved libraries growing up. In high school, I skipped my daily study period to slip over to the grade school across the parking lot and help out the librarian with cataloging and shelving and putting on book covers, and just generally enjoying the presence of all those books with their thousands of stories and invaluable information.

    Now I spend just as much time reading for pleasure and learning from the written word. I just do most of it online.
    (I also love my local libraries digital checkout where I can check out and read an ebook or audio book and never even drive anywhere)

  3. We Americans seem to spend a lot of time finding whatever faults we can whine about. So you don't like libraries? You're an adult who's proud of never having borrowed a book? People think less of you because you don't talk books? Big whoop. I doubt there's even one TYWKIWDBI reader who reads this and slaps his head thinking "Damn, I need to go to the library right now!"

    1. One TYWKIWDBI reader here, officially slapping my head, thinking 'I should really go to the library soon'. Libraries are awesome, and I don't spend nearly as much time at my local library as I should.

      Tangentially related to this, at least to my mind: In Japanese, a fairly common, moderately casual insult is 'baka', which translates roughly to 'fool, stupid, idiot, etc.' It's used to indicate that the target is of low intelligence. In America, an equally common and casual insult is 'nerd', which carries the meaning of 'intelligent but socially awkward'. These choices of casual mockery certainly show where the respective cultural priorities lie, don't you think?

  4. I live in Austin, TX and the library system is awesome. There are as many ebooks as Amazon's Kindle Prime service (and better ones too). There are comics and Audio books. They work on my Kindle/Fire Tablet too! As far as printed books, the service is great. There must be 20 locations around Austin, and they deliver book to whatever branch you want. The checkout process uses RF (?) tags and is simply a matter of placing a pile of books on a matt and scanning your card. It's awesome.

    I talk to people at work about it all the time and it's amazing how many people say something like "I don't do libraries".


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