August 22, 2014

Pew: Community Reading Habits Mirror Demographic Trends

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project’s Reading Habits in Different Communities report can help libraries in different kinds of communities better target their services.

While there were some significant differences in reading preferences among city, suburban, and rural dwellers, the report noted, “No matter where they live, people of similar ages and similar socio-economic profiles read and engage their libraries at roughly the same level. To the degree that there is variance among the reading styles in communities, those differences are associated with the demographic makeup of these communities, not because there is something unique about rural residence, or urban residence, or being a suburbanite.”

PewDemographicChart e1356028119339 Pew: Community Reading Habits Mirror Demographic TrendsWhen compared to one another, urban residents are most likely to be young, African-American and Latino, unemployed or students, and to report lower household income.  Suburban residents tended to be middle-aged, have higher income, and be employed full time. Rural residents are more often older, more likely to be retired or disabled, to be white, and to have a high school diploma or less.

Reading Around the Country

Among other findings, the report noted that while urban and suburban residents are somewhat more likely to have read at least one book in the past year than rural residents (80 percent versus 71 percent), book readers in rural areas read just as many books as readers in cities and suburbs.

Suburbanites were the most likely to read for pleasure, at 82 percent, compared with 79 percent of urban residents and 76 percent of rural residents. Urbanites (80 percent) and suburbanites (79 percent) were also especially likely to read to keep up with current events, compared with 73 percent of rural residents. Suburbanites were also most likely to read to research topics that interest them, at 77 percent, compared to 74 percent of urban residents and 70 percent of rural residents. More city dwellers reported having to read for school or work, at 58 percent, compared to 57 percent of suburban residents and 47 percent of rural ones. When it comes to magazines and journals, 52 percent of suburbanites read them regularly, compared with 47 percent of urban dwellers and 44 percent of rural residents.

The Local Library

City dwellers were most attached to their libraries: 71 percent say the library is important to them, and 59 percent have library cards. While slightly fewer suburbanites, 69 percent, say the library is important, slightly more have cards, at 61 percent. Some 62 percent of rural residents say the library is important and 48 percent have cards.

PewPLUse e1356028185209 Pew: Community Reading Habits Mirror Demographic TrendsHowever, when it comes to book recommendations, there’s no difference: residents of all three kinds of communities are equally likely to say librarians and library websites are sources of book recommendations. (Though as Gary Price of LJ’s INFOdocket.com points out, that number may be equal but it is also low: according to an earlier Pew report, only 19 percent of those aged 16 and older said they get book recommendations from librarians or library websites. Visit INFOdocket for more commentary on the report. )

One Country Under Books

Other factors that are the same across communities include the numbers of people who regularly read newspapers; how many titles book readers finish per year; the format readers use for getting content; and whether they read anything the previous day, and/or on a typical day. They also express similar preferences for borrowing or buying print, audio, or electronic books, the format of their most recently read book, and e-reading behaviors among those who own such devices.

Technological Differences

City residents are most likely to prefer ebooks over print, and they’re more likely than suburban readers to read more because of digital availability, whereas rural readers who have read in both electronic and print formats tend to prefer print. Even urban readers who don’t read ebooks already are most interested in classes to learn about ebooks from the library.  Suburban residents are the most likely to have a laptop or desktop computer, and to express interest in using ebook readers that are already loaded with books from the library.

Interestingly, there is no difference across community types in ownership of a handheld ereading device such as a Kindle or Nook. However there is a difference when it comes to tablet computers: rural residents are less likely to have one. Overall, more than three-quarters of rural dwellers don’t have either a tablet or an ereader, compared with slightly more than two-thirds of suburban and urban residents. Rural residents are also least likely to use the internet or email or to have a cell phone, and they are most likely to take most of their calls on a landline phone. Much of this disparity may be caused by lack of availability: some 14.5 million rural Americans do not have access to wired broadband.

Not surprisingly, since fewer rural residents own handheld devices, fewer use them also: 45 percent of rural residents read the newspaper on a device, compared to 57 percent of suburbanites and 56 percent of urban dwellers. Of those who read magazines and journals, 36 percent of urban and 33 percent of suburban readers read them on handheld devices, compared to 24 percent of rural readers.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Libraries are excellent sources for research as well as reading materials. In hard economic times such as these, many people are looking for information on job opportunities. Not everyone owns a computer. Libraries offer computers to those who need them. An excellent article appears in today’s New York Times on the subject: do we still need libraries? The answer is a resounding yes! Check it out at: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/12/27/do-we-still-need-libraries?hp