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Millennials: a rising generation of booklovers

Death of reading? Not so fast. The millennial generation is more likely to read and use their local library than their parents.

By Husna Haq / October 23, 2012

A Pew study found that 60 percent of Americans under 30 used a library in the past year.

Ronen Zvulen/Reuters

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Think the only reading your Facebook-updating, Twitter-posting, Google-addicted Millennial is doing is skimming 140-character-or-less Tweets?

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Think again.

Not only is the Facebook generation reading and visiting their local library, they’re actually more likely to read and more likely to use their local library.

Yup, that’s right – 18 to 29-year-olds are actually reading a whole lot more than tweets, and more than other adults. Some 8 in 10 Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year, compared to about 7 in 10 adults in general.

That unexpected good news comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project which conducted a study examining the role of books, libraries, and technology in the lives of young readers ages 16 to 29.

“A lot of people think that young people aren’t reading, they aren’t using libraries,” Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst with Pew told the New York Times. “That they’re just turning to Google for everything.”

Pew’s findings, it turns out, have proved that notion wrong.

• 83 percent of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, compared with roughly 70 percent of the general population. Some 75 percent read a print book, 19 percent read an e-book and 11 percent listened to an audio book.

• 60 percent of Americans under 30 used a library in the past year. Some 46 percent used it for research, 38 percent borrowed books, and 23 percent borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

The study also revealed some surprising insights about the use of e-books among younger readers. First, not surprisingly, younger readers are more comfortable with reading digital materials – but they aren’t ditching print books for digital.

“We heard from e-book readers in general [that] they don’t want e-books to replace print books,” Zickuhr told NPR’s Morning Edition. “They see them as part of the same general ecosystem; e-books supplement their general reading habits…We haven’t seen for younger readers that e-books are massively replacing print books.”

There’s also troubling news for tablet makers. Those under 30 are more likely to read e-books on a cell phone or computer than on an e-reader. Pew found that 41 percent of readers under 30 view books using a cell phone and 55 percent read them on a computer. In contrast, only 23 percent used an e-reader and 16 percent used a tablet.

“That’s definitely something we will keep an eye on,” Zickuhr said.

Tablet makers aren’t the only ones who should pay attention to this study. Libraries, listen up: According to Pew’s study, many readers under 30 have expressed a desire to borrow e-books on pre-loaded e-readers from the library. The catch: most libraries today offer this and young readers simply don’t know they can borrow e-books from their local library.

Some 58 percent of readers under 30 said they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service. About 52 percent were unaware they could do so at most libraries and only 10 percent of e-book readers said they borrowed an e-book fro their library.

The good news: libraries have massive potential with younger readers, they just need to understand how best to reach out to this age group.

“...a lot of libraries are really looking at how they can engage with this younger age group, especially with Americans in their teens and early 20s,” Zickuhr told NPR. “And so a lot of libraries are looking at ways to sort of give them their own space in the libraries, have activities just for them. Some libraries even have diner-style booths for the teens where they can just socialize and hang out, and so that they can think of the library as a space of their own.”

We’re tickled that younger generations appear to be avid readers and eager to see how that plays out as these younger readers grow up and help shape the marketplace of books.

Millennials, it turns out, might just help reinvent libraries – and reading – in the new millennium.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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