Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Younger Americans, More Survey Results, and Public Libraries! Are American Readers aging or growing younger?

This brief article by Hyperallergic shares findings from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center that the”16–29 demographic in the United States reads books and patronizes libraries at rates higher than those exhibited by adults over 30.” which seems to contradict the dismal portrait of young Americans and their reading tendencies drawn by the last SSPA report.

After reading the texts for this week, including the SPPA data and the Executive Summary from the NEA, I was interested in finding more survey data about audience participation specifically for the literary arts.

The SPPA reported decreases in the numbers of American adults who read fiction or poetry from 2008 to 2012, but poetry especially was hit hard: “Reading of fiction and poetry has declined since 2008, while play-reading has remained at the same, comparably lower rate…From 2002 to 2012, the poetry-reading rate nearly halved.”

The survey also indicated that older generations were currently reading more than younger ones, since 65 to 74 year olds were one of the groups with the highest rates of literary reading, and the 65 and older group’s reading frequency had a significant increase.

However, the Pew Center’s findings indicated that younger generations were reading and utilizing public libraries more than this study might suggest. The Pew Center’s survey summary reminded me a lot of our readings- it addressed the idea of generational differences, and segmented the younger generation into ‘target personalities’ based on each generation: “There are actually three different “generations” of younger Americans with distinct book reading habits, library usage patterns, and attitudes about libraries. One “generation” is comprised of high schoolers (ages 16-17); another is college-aged (18-24), though many do not attend college; and a third generation is 25-29.”

They then identified different habits, lifestyles, and attitudes common among each of these segments and drew connections between their reading habits with these traits. However, the Center was also quick to acknowledge that age alone is not the only factor in reading frequency or patronage of public libraries, and that lifestyle and education play a huge and more complicated role. I thought this quote in particular was very interesting, and related a lot to our readings:

“Our library engagement typology found that Americans’ relationships with libraries are part of their broader information and social landscapes, as people who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks. Deeper connections with public libraries are also often associated with key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, being a student, and going through a situation in which research and data can help inform a decision. As a result, the picture of younger Americans’ engagement with public libraries is complex and sometimes contradictory, as we examine their habits and attitudes at different life stages.”

You can draw connections from this debate to others circling the literary genre: e-readers versus print, the rise of blogging versus institutional journalism, shorter attention spans versus the time and patience it takes to finish a novel. But I think that libraries, as a space, institution, and symbol, are an interesting focus point for this study. I love spending hours in libraries, working or reading, and they were one of my favorite places as a child. Will libraries to represent what they have in the past, or will they begin to transform into another kind of space for changing readerships and cultural needs? Or is that what readers even need or want? Lots of questions. I have no answers, but I’m interested in reading more about this topic.


One comment on “Younger Americans, More Survey Results, and Public Libraries! Are American Readers aging or growing younger?

  1. sobashhere
    September 18, 2014

    I love libraries for a multitude of reasons: the architecture, the identification of residency in an area, the collections, and the atmosphere. I admittedly seek out libraries and cemeteries when I’m on vacation in new cities because I think both those institutions say the most interesting things about the local culture. The library is an amazing place that is a collective space for reading. I remember the library I could walk to from my house when I was little, and today going back it has been beautifully renovated in recent years, but still holds those fond memories.

    Relatedly, I was doing some research on grants for the arts from the NEA this past week and I hadn’t really ever looked at Literature from the funding side. It was interesting to view all the different workshops, associations and libraries being funded. It depicts not only the needs, but the passion still very much alive in the literary arts from all audiences.

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