Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2010 Issue

Children's Reading Habits Surveyed: Good News or Bad?

Scholastic

The Scholastic report.


By Michael Stillman

A new study from children's and educational book publisher Scholastic Corporation concerning reading in the digital age offers some hopeful news along with a hefty dose of wishful thinking. We find that reading is not dead, nor, even, are printed books. Nonetheless, anyone expecting to change the course of history after reading this study will, we suspect, be disappointed. This train is barreling down the track, and it is hard to change the path of a runaway locomotive.

The Scholastic survey questioned 6-17-year-old children and their parents about a variety of issues related to reading. Here are some of the things they found:

By a margin of 41%-13% parents believe electronic devices have decreased the time their children spend reading for fun.

25% of children have read books on a digital device (almost 2 out of 3 on a computer versus a hand-held device).

57% of children are interested in reading books on a digital device.

33% of children 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to digital devices.

Only 6% of parents own an eReading device, but another 16% plan on purchasing one in the next year. 83% of these will allow or encourage their children to use it.

Nevertheless, 66% of children age 9-17 say they will always want to read books on paper.


There were also a few tangential questions asked with revealing, if perhaps not quite so hopeful, answers given:

39% of children 9-17 believe the information they find online is "always correct."

28% of children believe looking at postings on social networking sites such as Facebook count as "reading," and 25% of them believe that sending text messages back and forth between friends counts as "reading."
:(

Most of the stories published about this report focused on some of the positives: that 57% are interested in reading books on an electronic reader, that 66% will always read printed books, that eReaders are expected to grow from use by just 6% of the population to 22% in the next year. The articles also usually mentioned the conflict between electronic devices and reading, that gaming and such is taking time once devoted to reading and other pursuits. While some of this appears to be positive, I think this study needs to be taken with a grain of salt, perhaps a mountain of it. One of the claims it made is that 80% of children read books for fun at least once a week. In a pig's eye. Maybe if you take that 53% who consider reading text messages and Facebook as reading "books," along with those who read instant messages, email, and graffiti written on school bathroom walls as "books," you can get to 80%. LOL. This is a case of people telling their interviewers what they believe they are supposed to say, not what is necessarily true.

However, my belief is that the reading issue is really not so much about technology, electronic readers vs. paper books, video games and social networks vs. literature and knowledge. It has never been that easy to get children to read, and this only becomes more difficult as advancing technology makes more forms of entertainment available. Video games and Facebook are simply playing the foil to books that television once played for an earlier generation.

The real issue, in my opinion, deals with content, not form. Children will undoubtedly turn more and more to forms with which they are familiar - electronic - but the question of whether they will read books is really one of content. They will read books, generally in their personally preferred form, if they find them interesting. They won't if they don't. If a book is more interesting than a game, or at least, more interesting than playing another game after one has been completed, than it will be read. My daughter is hardly an avid reader (if one excludes text messages and Facebook), and yet she read the entire Harry Potter and Twilight series. The Scholastic report shows that the two most popular books for children 12-17 are … Harry Potter and Twilight. Kids couldn't put those books down. You would think they were video games.

Books are just going to have to be very good to reach the next generation. Writers will have to connect. If they do, young people will find them, regardless of whether they are on paper or electronic impulses.

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