Although kids today say they enjoy reading just as much as their peers did in 2005, they’re actually reading far less each day because they’re busy doing other things, says a new study by the National Literacy Trust, a UK-based literacy charity.
The report found that in 2005, four young people in 10 read daily outside of class, but at the end of 2011, only three young people in 10 enjoyed leisure reading. However, the number of children and young people who enjoy reading “very much” or “quite a lot” has remained static since 2005, with 50 percent today versus 51 percent in 2005.
“Young people’s lives are busier than ever before, with many activities and interest vying for their time,” says Christina Clark, author of “Children’s and Young People’s Reading Today” by email.
Just 57 percent of students picked up magazines in 2011, down from 77 percent in 2005. Comic reading also slid from 64 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2011. More than half (54 percent) of the 21,000 eight to 16-year-olds surveyed at the end of 2011 say they prefer watching TV to reading, and 17 percent said they would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading.
However, the study found that when students read outside of class time—a growing number pick up more digital formats, with 7.8 percent of students reading ebooks in 2011, compared to 5.6 percent in 2010. Blogs, too, were up from 16.1 percent in 2010 to 17.5 percent in 2011, and social networking sites edged up slightly from 48.8 percent in 2010 to 49.9 percent in 2011.
Teens and adults in the U.S. also are turning online to read—with 42 percent of readers 16 and older flipping through ebooks, 29 percent reading on their phones, and 23 percent reading on tablet computers, according to a Pew Research Center study, “The rise of e-reading,” released in April.
While both studies didn’t specifically cover libraries or librarians, Jack Martin, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and director of the New York Public Library’s Public Programs/Lifelong Learning division, says librarians can use their findings to ask themselves how they define reading —and if they discount ways in which kids engage with text. Reading websites and online manga are as legitimate as reading school books, Martin says.
“We need to help kids get over the stigma of not recognizing themselves as readers,” adds Martin. “Because they are readers—online and on their phone, and we have to recognize that and empower them to read more.”
In fact, children’s enjoyment of reading increased slightly from 2010 to 2011, with 68.1 percent of students aged eight to 11-years-old reporting that they found reading pleasurable in 2010, compared to 73 percent in 2011. And yet, less than half of older kids found reading fun, compared to young children, a finding that the report’s researchers called “truly staggering.”
Just 34.4 percent of children ages 14 to 16 reported that they “enjoy reading very much or quite a lot in 2010,” compared to the 73 percent of young students ages 8 to 11-years-old who answered the same.
School and public librarians who work with young kids may need to rethink what they define as reading and remind themselves that anytime they engaging with text—whether that’s on a gaming site or with Moby Dick—reading is happening.
“If kids are actually told they’re reading online, they might actually pick up that novel parents and teachers have been trying to get them to read,” says Martin. “It’s a matter of parents and educators to figure out what means, and they define it.”