October 23, 2012

Younger Americans’ Reading and Library habits

October 23, 2012 (Washington) — More than eight in ten Americans ages 16-29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library. Many say they are reading more in the era of digital content, especially on their mobile phones and on computers.

These findings come from a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that examines younger Americans’ reading and library use habits during the rise of e-content. This research is part of a larger effort to assess the reading and library use habits of all Americans ages 16 and older and these findings will be reported at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, California.

According to a nationally representative poll by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.
  • Among Americans who read e-books, those 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%).
  • Overall, 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 these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).
  • About half (48%) of readers under age 30 said they had purchased their most recently read book. Another 24% said they had borrowed it from a friend or family member, and 14% said they borrowed it from a library.

The report also examines younger Americans’ library usage, and what e-book-related services they might be interested at their local libraries:

  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.
  • High-school-aged readers were more likely to have borrowed the last book they read from the library (37%) than they are to have bought it (26%). This pattern soon reverses for older age groups—almost six in ten readers in their late twenties said they had purchased their last book.
  • Many young e-book readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library. Among those ages 16-29 who have not borrowed an e-book from the library, 52% said they were unaware they could do so.
  • A majority of non-borrowers under age 30 expressed an interest in doing so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 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.

“High schoolers stand out in several ways. We found that libraries are a large part of how readers ages 16-17 get their books, more so than older adults. These high schoolers are more likely than other age groups to use the library, including for research and book-borrowing,” said Kathryn Zickuhr of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a co-author of the report.  “Yet their appreciation for these library services doesn’t quite match up—almost half of 16-17 year-olds say that the library is not important or ‘not too important’ to them and their family, significantly more than other age groups.”

The main findings in this report, including all statistics and quantitative data, are from a nationally-representative phone survey of 2,986 people ages 16 and older that was administered from November 16-December 21, 2011. This report also contains the voices and insights of an online panel of library patrons ages 16-29 who borrow e-books, fielded in the spring of 2012.

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Internet Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at www.pewinternet.org.

Disclaimer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

This report is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media contacts:

Pew Internet:

Lee Rainie: lrainie@pewinternet.org and 202-419-4510

Kathryn Zickuhr: kzickuhr@pewinternet.org and 202-419-4518

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

The line is staffed all the time and will direct the inquiry appropriately.

Phone: +1.206.709.3400

Email: media@gatesfoundation.org