Reading Habits for Evolving Libraries

At some point during this past year you may have found yourself trying to remember what pre-pandemic life looked like or wondering if there is anything that remains unchanged. We’ve been having similar thoughts at LRS, so when new research is published on reading habits we are eager to see what has shifted and what, if anything, has remained the same. In the latest reports we found a mixture of old habits and fresh growth leading libraries into new territory. This month LRS is taking a break from research methodology to highlight sections of a few recent publications that paint a picture of library patron habits with data: Pew Research Center’s “Three-in-ten Americans now read e-books by Michelle Faverio and Andrew Perrin, American Library Association’s (ALA) “State of America’s Libraries Special Report: Pandemic Year Two,” and Library Journal’s “Collection Rebalance | 2022 Materials Survey” by Neal Wyatt. 

Readers Remain Steady  

In January of 2022, Pew Research Center published their findings on Americans’ reading habits. They surveyed 1,502 citizens and weighted the results to be representative of the overall population. As revealed by the name of the article, 30% of Americans now report having read at least part of an ebook in replacement of, or in addition to, print books. This is a 5% increase from last year, after only intermittent growth since 2011. However, only 9% of respondents reported accessing books exclusively in digital forms (i.e., ebooks or audiobooks). 

Despite the pandemic, the overall number of people that report reading a part of, or a complete book within the past year regardless of format remained steady in 2021 at 75%. Pew has been tracking this statistic since 2011 when 78% reported reading a book, and this data point has only shifted slightly over the ten year period. 

After looking through this report at LRS we considered it worth mentioning that, although Pew’s article does state once in the text that these percentages refer to those who have read completely or partly through a book, in their visuals and later in the text this category is referred to as people who have read a book. You have to be careful to remember that these numbers also include those that did not read all the way through a book. 

Growing Digital Collections

In April 2022, ALA released their State of America’s Libraries report which outlines the many ways libraries are evolving in the face of challenges. The major focus of the report revolves around mounting politicized censorship efforts, such as the influx of challenges to programs and materials (and even funding) in libraries across the U.S. The first half of this report covers important topics such as book bans, disinformation and EDI, and we highly recommend that you check it out

For our purposes here, we focused on the section “How We Read in 2021” which begins by referring to the Pew study discussed above. To expand on this report ALA shares that, according to Michelle Jeske of Denver Public Library (DPL) in the New Yorker, digital checkouts at DPL have increased by over 60%. This considerable jump requires DPL to spend a larger portion of their budget on digital collections. 

ALA focuses on how this growing demand is complicated by the fact that libraries often license ebooks from third parties, which is expensive, and their rights to these ebooks have a time limit. For example, libraries may pay around $40 dollars more for the rights to an ebook for only two years, compared to a regular consumer paying for unlimited use of the same ebook. These expensive and restrictive licenses make it difficult for libraries to meet demand, leading to long waits for patrons and the absence of popular titles from ebook and audiobook collections.

A Hybrid Approach

Material formats and content in 2021 were also examined by Library Journal’s recently released 2022 Materials Survey recap. This survey was completed by 131 U.S. public libraries and found that budget portions spent on ebook collections have fallen since a spike in 2020. Overall, allocations for ebooks were only 1% higher in 2021 than before the pandemic, sitting at 13%. While some libraries reported a shift back to print in 2021 and some reported a growth in ebook readers, the general trend was a flexible hybrid approach for many patrons depending on the accessibility of their preferred books. This is consistent with Pew’s finding that 33% of people read in both print and digital formats.

In additional collection news, this survey revealed that 9% of libraries responding to the survey plan to stop adding music CDs to their collections and 11% of respondents plan to stop adding audiobook CDs in the next two years.

According to Library Journal’s survey, spending on materials in 2021 returned to similar numbers from before the pandemic, but as ALA also discussed, collection budgets are still strained between many formats and frustrating restrictions on digital content. It is expected that the demand for digital formats will continue to grow, but that growth is returning to a gradual increase, and according to Pew 32% of Americans still report reading only print books. In the conclusion of Library Journal’s report Neal Wyatt writes, “Physical media collections look to be shrinking, but librarians know how long a change in format takes to promulgate across a community. It might be several more years before the habits tested and gained during the pandemic are reflected in more than incremental shifts in spending.”

In Summation

Pew’s research shows very gradual shifts in reading habits and digital content usage which accelerated slightly between 2019 and 2021 with a 5% increase in America’s population utilizing ebooks. This development can easily be attributed to the pandemic limiting in-person interactions. ALA’s report depicted a more drastic shift in library patron preferences by highlighting DPL’s considerable increase in digital content check-outs. The licensing battles libraries face to grow their ebook collection and meet this demand is ALA’s focus. Library Journal’s survey showed material spending leveling out from the pandemic and painted a picture of the new hybrid realm libraries have entered. On top of these changes, library staff are also finding that patron interests are shifting during this turbulent time, creating a need to weed and diversify collections.

A library’s ability to provide quality audiobooks and ebooks in a timely manner is a matter of equitable access. While many patrons can base their format choice on whichever is most quickly and conveniently available, ebooks also provide critical tools such as magnification and text to speech. If a library is able to provide these to patrons it becomes a more equitable and inclusive environment. 

On a very related note, though not provided at public libraries, a recent visit to Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) updated the LRS team on the exciting development of braille eReaders, a huge technological advancement for increasing accessibility for people with visual impairments! The prospect of these being provided by CTBL in the future is wonderful, and you can find a video describing these devices here.

Thank you all for reading, and remember to reach out to with any questions you may have.

Every Day is Earth Day in Libraries

Half a century ago, Earth Day began as a grassroots effort to bring attention to environmental issues. Now fifty years later, organizers are bringing the focus back to climate change, an admittedly enormous challenge, and urging everyone to take part in protecting and restoring our planet. As lending institutions, libraries have long understood their role as stewards of environmental responsibility. The Green Library Movement began in the early 1990s as a commitment to greening libraries by reducing their environmental impact on the planet. The movement gained popularity around 2003 and then in 2019, the American Library Association (ALA) Council adopted sustainability as a professional core value.

Is the Green Library Movement Growing?

In the years since the movement took off, libraries around the world have reviewed their operations and programming to identify ‘greener’ methods. Buildings have been rebuilt or remodeled to include energy efficient design and physical materials have been replaced with digital mediums. However, much debate still remains over whether libraries are fully embracing the challenge. A 2012 study conducted in Finland discovered that up to 60 percent of respondents believed the components of environmental management had not been taken into account enough in their own libraries. When asked about everyday routines, more than half of libraries were turning off lights after 10 minutes, switching computers off at the end of the working day, and sorting waste products. However, only about 10 percent of respondents said their library’s printers print on both sides of the paper by default. Less than five percent said laptops were preferred in computer acquisitions.

Measuring a Library’s Carbon Emission

Given limited resources, it can be difficult for a library to prioritize green initiatives, especially if they can’t pinpoint where they are expending the most energy consumption. To provide a better understanding of an institution’s Global Warming Potential (GWP), students at University of California Berkeley developed a carbon emissions calculator specifically for academic libraries. While it can be adapted to public and school libraries, the tool fails to take into account newer technologies (e-books, 3D printers, sewing machines, etc.), as well as waste produced from programming and outreach. Using the engineering library at UC Berkeley as a case study, researchers found that the HVAC was the largest abuser of annual power consumption (~145,000 kWh). Of materials, volumes had the greatest GWP at 5,394 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

Greening a Community, Not Just the Library

Even if libraries are not huge carbon emission offenders, they still play a pivotal role in introducing sustainability initiatives to their communities. As green buildings, they can demonstrate the use of solar panels or reflective roofing, educate the community about residential use of rain barrels using their own rainwater collection systems, and incorporate native plants into landscaping to reduce reliance on irrigation.

E-books are another popular way of reducing the carbon footprint. A study at Boston College found that the majority of environmental waste for both e-books and paper books originates before reaching the hands of the intended audience. However, paper books contribute significantly more waste during distribution, making them less environmentally friendly. According to the study, a user would have to access 33 e-books on a device before offsetting the carbon footprint of one printed counterpart.

Libraries can also publicize green initiatives through creative programming. For adults, one librarian suggests screening a documentary related to sustainability. For children’s programming, another librarian tries to find materials that can be reused or repurposed. She also refuses programs that produce single-use waste. Being conscious of a program’s environmental impact—and highlighting that success—can be key takeaways for patrons.

Every Day is Earth Day in Libraries

Climate change may be the theme of this year’s Earth Day celebration, but more and more, it is serving as a foundation for libraries. Whether through building constructing, material use, or programming, multiple opportunities exist for libraries to become agents of change within their communities. Earth Day can be every day in a library.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

About 7 out of 10 US adults read a book last year, but among those without a high school degree it was 3 out of 10

About seven out of ten adults (72%) in the U.S. report that they read a book in the last 12 months. This percentage has stayed about the same since the Pew Research Center started conducting studies of adult reading habits in 2011, but it does vary depending on income and education.

In the most recent survey in 2019, nine out of ten college graduates (90%) said they read a book in the past year while only about three out of ten (32%) adults without a high school degree did. Higher percentages of women, Whites, those earning more than $75,000, and people living in urban areas reported reading a book in the past year. Males, Hispanics, those earning less than $30,000, and people living in rural areas reported lower rates of reading. The overall percentage of men who read a book decreased from 73% in 2018 to 67% in 2019.

The portion of people reading audio books is on the rise, and increased from 14% in 2016 to 20% in 2019. This increase is particularly strong for college graduates and those who earn more than $75,000. Print books, however, are still the most popular way for people to read: 65% of the people who read a book in the last year read a print book. Another 25% of people reported reading an e-book in the past year. About 37% of adults read only print books.

The full report can be found here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

How much is your library worth?

We can all agree that libraries are valuable to our communities, but exactly how much are they worth? Libraries are under increasing pressure to translate qualitative services into quantifiable impact. One approach is to determine the Return on Investment (ROI) a library provides to community members. Doing so communicates the value of public libraries in terms of dollars and cents.

Traditionally a business metric, ROI measures a business’s profitability. Simply put, it compares costs to profits and expresses it as a ratio or percentage. For a public institution like a library, ROI demonstrates how much “value” is realized by the community for each dollar spent on services and materials. This includes:

  • The cost to use alternatives: the estimated amount of money that would have been spent to use an alternative if the library did not exist;
  • Lost use: for patrons who indicated they would not have tried to meet their needs with another source or would not have known where else to go, the estimated value of the direct benefit that they would not have received if the library didn’t exist;
  • Direct local expenditures: dollar figures for expenditures on goods and services within the library’s legal service area;
  • Compensation for library staff: the amount of annual compensation that staff members would not have received if the library didn’t exist; and
  • Halo spending: purchases made by library patrons from vendors and businesses that are located close to the library.
  • Some ROI methodologies also apply a dollar amount to patrons’ time and take the amount saved seeking materials or services elsewhere into account.

Two approaches are commonly used to calculate a library’s ROI: contingent valuation or market valuation, both of which have their strengths and weaknesses. Contingent valuation bases dollar values on subjective perceptions of responding library users. However, within those subjective perceptions, patrons may include a more holistic experience that takes into account the value of having various needs being met in one place. This method acknowledges that the value of a library is likely greater than the sum of the value of its individual resources and services. In contrast, market valuation bases dollar values on objective, “real world” values such as the use of electronic resources, material and book circulation, program attendance, reference services, and meeting room use. Perhaps the greatest advantage of this approach is that it can be pursued using readily available data, as opposed to contingent valuation that relies on patron surveys and interviews.

A meta-analysis of findings from 38 previous library ROI studies found that, on average, the return value for public libraries is 4 to 5 times the amount invested. A study conducted by Library Research Service in 2009 found similar results in Colorado using a contingent valuation methodology. Although valuation findings should not necessarily be extrapolated out to a state or national level, overall they can—and do—show decision makers, patrons, and the public that libraries are a wise investment.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

Loneliness Reaches Epidemic Levels. Are Public Libraries the Cure?

Libraries are not traditionally thought of as social spaces. Stereotypes of older women glaring over thick-rimmed glasses to shush talkative individuals pervade our pop-culture references. However, studies show that public libraries foster social support and decrease isolation. At a time when loneliness is being deemed a public health crisis in the United States, libraries are uniquely positioned to offer up a cure.

Cigna, the global health service company, reported epidemic levels of loneliness in 2019 that continue to intensify. After surveying 10,500 adults, they found that three in five (61%) classify as lonely, a seven percentage-point increase from 2018. The results are based on a 20-item questionnaire developed to assess self-reported, subjective feelings of loneliness or social isolation. A score of 43 or higher indicates loneliness. The report’s findings show a national average of 45.7 out of a possible 80.

Loneliness is affecting people of all ages, all demographics, and across socio-economic divides. Gen Z (18-22) is the loneliest age bracket, with levels decreasing as people get older. Additionally, entry-level employees and executives are the two most likely groups to report always or sometimes feeling there is no one they can turn to, not feeling close to anyone, and that no one really knows them well. Hispanic and African American workers agree in higher numbers that they feel abandoned by coworkers when under pressure at work. So how do we reach such a wide-ranging cross-section of American society to address this epidemic? Open the door to a public library.

Libraries’ extensive population reach, their access to diverse sectors of the US population, the public trust they command, and their diverse geographic coverage favorably position them as a multi-sectoral strategy to advance public health. 95 percent of the US population live within a public library service area and as Donald Barclay writes, “Public libraries are perhaps the last remaining indoor public spaces where an individual can remain from opening until closing without needing any reason to be there and without having to spend any money.”

Research published in the Journal of Community Health shows that libraries can address social exclusion among structurally vulnerable groups, from homeless individuals to new parents. In Denver, a Community Technology Center team regularly visits the local day shelter to give participants bus tokens, a tour of the main library, and library cards. In New Jersey, a new parents’ support group meets weekly at the local library. LGBTQ youth who may not feel safe at home or on the streets can turn to a library as a designated safe space. Library programs such as Drag Queen Story Hour also reduce social exclusion by increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, libraries decrease social isolation by offering programs that build community and foster relationships. The Lifetime Arts’ program operates across 13 states and 80 public libraries, providing writing, painting, choir, and dancing classes for older adults. For newcomers such as refugees and immigrants, libraries serve as critical spaces to foster social integration. In Hartford, Connecticut, the public library provided services to promote immigrant civic engagement, including a core group of volunteer immigrants to help newly arrived individuals with tasks such as accessing community and legal services.

The 21st century library is an intersection of people and purposes. As national health data highlights a critical need for connection, the social role of libraries should not be overlooked. However, additional research is needed to evaluate the impact libraries have on the overall social wellbeing of patrons and the untapped potential for the wider—lonelier—public.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

How Libraries Help Students Evaluate Information in the Era of “Fake News”

In the digital age, algorithms based on personal data allow information to find us as opposed to the other way around. Have we adequately prepared the next generation, who are predominantly accessing the world through social media platforms and search engines, to filter through the noise?

In a 2019 survey of US secondary school librarians, 96 percent said they teach some form of information literacy. These research skills allow students to “discover and evaluate credible information effectively and ethically by thinking critically.” In other words, students learn to identify biased reporting and suspicious sources, which can be applied to everything from Instagram posts to citizen news sites. Yet, according to a 2017 survey of academic librarians, the knowledge is not being retained—only 28 percent of first-year students enter their institution prepared for college-level research. If information literacy is widely taught in schools, why is there such a large gap?

Librarians site a “lack of time” (69 percent) and “lack of faculty support” (59 percent) as the biggest challenges to instruction. “I don’t think [faculty] see these skills as important. They also feel so pressed for time covering their curriculum that these skills fall to the wayside.” Survey respondents candidly admitted that higher-ups in the educational food chain don’t see a critical value in information literacy skills. The lack of prioritization from administrators trickles down to teachers who often fail to prioritize “non-tested” material. Librarians note the difficulty in finding instruction time for students and the lack of integration and reinforcement of these skills across all curricula.

Amid the frustration, some respondents offered that one solution could be to start younger. “Students are so hands on with tech, even BEFORE entering preschool, focusing on these skills at the high school level seems too late,” noted one librarian—and they’re right. A 2015 study by Pearson found that 53 percent of 4th and 5th graders and 66 percent of middle school students regularly used a smartphone. Yet, only 28 percent of children learned about “seeking multiple perspectives” prior to entering high school. How to effectively use open web resources was more likely to be introduced in grades 10 and above, meaning there are years of access to information without proper education on how to appraise it.

One librarian who participated in the research study offered this as a final thought, “In our world of ‘fake news,’ teaching our students how to find accurate news sources and how to evaluate them is critical to have well-informed citizens.” Information literacy education needs to be addressed by understanding the critical role librarians play in laying the foundations for information consumption. Librarians are necessary for teaching students how to evaluate sources and make informed decisions to navigate a world increasingly embedded in the internet and social media.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

International survey shows large adult literacy gap between the more and less educated in the United States

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assesses adult competency on an international scale, using the Survey of Adult Skills. The survey assesses adults aged 16-65 on literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. The OECD focuses on these three skills because they are necessary for full participation in society, relevant to a variety of contexts, and learnable. The United States as well as Ecuador, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Peru participated in the most recent round of data collection in 2017, and the United States also administered the assessment in 2012-2014.

The results of the survey allow researchers to calculate averages across all OECD countries for several measures. In addition to skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving, the relationships between these skills and other variables are calculated on average across all participating OECD countries. These averages provide a valuable baseline for comparing country-specific results.

The research found that the gap in literacy proficiency between high- and low-educated adults is greater in the United States than on average for other OECD countries. The research also shows that the relationship between parental education and the skills of adult children is stronger than it is in other OECD countries on average. Finally, the study found that higher proficiency in literacy has a positive impact on other beliefs and behaviors, like trust in others, political efficacy, and self-reported health.

What do these findings mean about literacy in the US relative to the rest of the world? While adult literacy proficiency is impacted by a person’s education and their parents’ education across the countries included in the study, those relationships are even stronger in the US. US adults who did not pursue further education and had parents with lower education levels had lower literacy proficiency than they might if they lived elsewhere in the world. Libraries strive to provide additional access to literacy skills, and these results show that the need for that access is still great, particularly for those who have less educational experience.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

2019 Colorado Health Survey finds that one in seven Coloradans needed mental health treatment but didn’t get it

The 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey, administered by the Colorado Health Institute, found that “one in seven Coloradans (13.5%) say they have needed mental health treatment but didn’t get it.” This survey randomly samples 10,000 Colorado households every two years. In 2017, the percentage of Coloradans reporting they did not receive needed mental health treatment was 8%. The percentage of Coloradans who report having experienced prolonged poor mental health (8 or more days in the past month) also increased from 12% in 2017 to 15% in 2019. The latest State Demography Office’s estimate of Colorado’s 2019 population is a little over 5.5 million people, and these survey data indicate that more than 840,000 of those people have experienced a mental health issue in the past month.  

Coloradans face barriers to accessing mental health services. The nonpartisan newspaper Colorado Politics recently published an in-depth article about these barriers, and cited cost and issues with insurance as major challenges. They reported that psychiatrists, who prescribe medication, are particularly difficult to get appointments with due to high demand. They also reported that according to Mental Health Colorado “patients in Colorado go out of network for mental health and addiction treatment seven times more often than for physical care.” This leads to a higher cost of care. Governor Jared Polis recently signed State House Bill 1269 to try to improve access to behavioral health services in Colorado.

Libraries nationwide have been building partnerships and creating programs to address mental health services gaps in their communities. Library Journal recently featured several initiatives and suggests best practices for serving people with mental health issues. A great starting point for libraries is the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) document “People with Mental Health Issues: What You Need To Know.”  Some libraries are also training staff in Mental Health First Aid, a program offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which teaches techniques for working with people in crisis, including referring to appropriate community resources beyond the library.   

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

The number of challenges reported in Colorado’s public libraries remains steady in 2018

LRS’s latest Fast Facts report summarizes the results of our annual investigation into the materials and resources challenged in Colorado’s public libraries. This report details the number, type, and reasons for the challenges reported in the 2018 Public Library Annual Report. The information that public libraries provided about these challenges helps us track the attitude towards intellectual freedom in Colorado now and over time.

Public libraries reported 43 challenges to materials or resources in 2018, nearly the same as the number reported last year (41). The number of reported challenges has dropped since 2008, although the numbers of challenges reported in 2017 and 2018 were close to double what was reported in 2016.

Like in previous years, adult materials were challenged more often than children’s and young adult (YA) materials. Two-thirds (67%) of the materials challenged were intended for adults. About 1 in 5 challenges were toward both children’s (21%) or YA (21%) materials. Over half (54%) of the challenges resulted in no change to the materials or resource, and a little less than 1 in 5 (17%) challenges were dropped by the challenger. “No change” has been the most common result for a challenge since 2008.

The top reason for a reported challenge was “Unsuited to Age Group,” making up nearly 2 in 5 (38%) challenges. “Other” (33%) replaced “Sexually Explicit” (29%) for the second most common reason for a challenge. Violence (21%), Insensitivity (21%), and Homosexuality (8%) finished out the top six reasons for a challenge in 2018.

For more results from the Public Library Challenges Survey, check out the 2018 Challenged Materials in Public Libraries Fast Facts report. And, more information about intellectual freedom issues in libraries can be found here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

National Endowment of the Arts survey finds that 53% of American adults read a book for pleasure in 2017

Image credit: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently updated their Humanities Indicators with information gathered during the National Endowment of the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. These updates focused on capturing book-reading behaviors of American adults in 2017.

The survey found that a little over half (53%) of American adults had read at least one book for pleasure in the past 12 months, the lowest level since the survey began in 1982. Reading rates declined the most among adults aged 55 and younger. However, respondents’ participation in book clubs and reading groups increased to 1 in 20 (5%, up from 3.5% in 2012).

American adults spent less of their leisure time reading in 2017 than in previous years. Respondents reported reading, on average, just under 17 minutes per day, 5 minutes less than in 2003. Reading time declined at every education level, with the largest decline occurring among those with advanced college degrees, falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 27 minutes in 2017. Time spent reading also declined among every age group, except for the two youngest – 15-19 and 20-24 year olds. Respondents spent an average of 2 hours and 46 minutes watching television and 28 minutes using computers for leisure per day.

The survey also asked what kinds of books Americans are reading. Poetry readership increased among younger readers (18-24 years old), with the rate rising from 8.2% in 2012 to 17.5% in 2017. The types of books respondents read also differed by gender. Half of women (50%) reported reading a novel or short story in the past year compared to a third of men (33%). Conversely, about half of men (49%) read a history book, compared to a little less than 2 in 5 women (37%).

The full list of updates can be found here. The new updates are explored in three groups: Book Reading Behavior, Time Spent Reading, and Book Reading: Topics.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.