Today the National Endowment for the Arts published a report titled To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence. (Link is to a .pdf file.) The report discusses the reading habits of teens and adults and considers the frequency with which different age groups read for pleasure, read a book, and read at all.

Reading the study one has to ask, how did those gathering the data define reading? For example, there is a finding that states “Teens and young adults spend less time reading than people of other age groups.” How can that be true? Don’t teens read when surfing YouTube, looking for something on Google, figuring out how to improve their gaming scores, checking out photos on Flickr?

Maybe it’s because the authors of the report don’t consider using the web, playing video games, or even emailing to encompass valid reading opportunities. For example another finding states “Even when reading does occur, it competes with other media.” One of the sub-bullets in that finding is that “20% of their reading time is shared by TV watching, video/computer game-playing, instant messaging, e-mailing, or Web surfing.” Isn’t it pretty obvious that IMing, emailing, and web surfing require reading?

There are some valid concerns about multitasking and reading comprehension outlined in this report. However, if we as a society don’t seriously investigate how we define reading, and recognize that reading formats other than books is reading, we are going to alienate many teens and younger generations.

When you read about the report (or read the actual document) think about what the research really looked at, how the researchers defined reading, and how the data does or doesn’t reflect what you are seeing in your community and setting. Be careful not to make teens feel that just because they are reading something online, and not reading a traditional format such as a paperback book, that that reading doesn’t count. Let teens know that reading in a variety of formats is something you respect and value.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

2 Thoughts on “Defining Reading

  1. Sarah Pillivant [Visitor] on December 6, 2007 at 1:22 pm said:

    I completely agree – I was just handed that report a few days ago, and all I could think about was all the ways they didn’t record reading. Most teens, when asked how much they read, wouldn’t even think about the magazines, the comic books, the fanfic, their friends livejournals and facebooks… I mean, good grief, I don’t always sit down and read a book for pleasure every day, and this is my job!

    I was also very surprised at the huge concern over college students’ reading – I graduated just two years ago, and I’ll tell ya, what with all the reading required for class, I rarely had time to curl up with a novel, nor did I always want to. One can only read so much in one day!

  2. Sarah Foster [Visitor] on December 8, 2007 at 10:45 am said:

    I could not agree more! I am a teen librarian and i am constantly faced with teens who declare that they HATE reading, and then promptly check out a computer so they can spend hours updating their myspace pages or checking out what Perez Hilton has to say!
    I point out to them that what they’re doing is reading, and they answer back “this kind of reading doesn’t count”.

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