library checkoutsIf you have a sneaking suspicion that people aren’t reading as much these days, you’re right… and the evidence isn’t just anecdotal. In 2021, American adults report reading two to three fewer books than in previous years.

And it’s not just adults who aren’t reading as much. Unfortunately, kids are reading less these days, too; the number of kids who read daily for fun has dropped to levels not seen since the 1980s.

For many libraries, this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, given decreasing checkout trends in recent years. But what’s causing the decline in reading, and how can library outreach combat it?

Reading By the (Declining) Numbers

Let’s start with some numbers: Adults read, on average, 12.6 books in 2021, as compared to 15.6 in 2016. Interestingly, this drop correlates to reading fewer books, rather than fewer people reading in general.

According to Gallup, the 17% of adults who don’t read any books at all have remained roughly stable over the years. Rather, it’s all about the amount of books read — specifically, a decrease in those who read more than 10 books per year. Only 27% report reading 10+ books, a number that’s been dropping since 2016.

Kids are reading fewer books, too. For instance, 42% of 9-year-olds report reading for fun every day in 2020, as opposed to 53% in 2012. And while 27% of 13-year-olds reported reading for fun every day in 2012, only 17% said the same in 2020. It’s a troubling trend, in large part because reduced access to printed materials ups the risk for a number of disadvantages.

Do Screens + Pandemic = a Perfect Storm?

What’s causing the decline? A few possibilities stand out. First, a proliferation of screens may be taking a bite out of what used to be reading time. Research indicates that teens, especially, may be replacing reading time with time spent on social media and other online activities. Most high schoolers spend from four to eight hours per day engaged in digital media activities — mostly social media, gaming, and texting. The increase in time spent using digital media leads to a decrease in time spent using traditional media, including printed materials.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the COVID-19 pandemic. When libraries went on lockdown, it curbed check out of physical materials. While some patrons turned to e-books and other digital materials, others simply dropped away.

How Library Outreach Can Boost Checkouts

Given these statistics, how can libraries turn the tide? It’s more important than ever for libraries to reach out to the community and provide in-person checkouts, literacy services, and strong programming, as well as a robust selection of digital resources.

Making it easy for patrons to check out materials is key. One of the best ways to increase outreach and checkouts is through library kiosks. These portable units serve patrons where they are; with the same footprint as a vending machine, autolend library kiosks can be placed where patrons live, play, and work.

Each kiosk holds up to 450 items, making it easy for patrons to find what they want, when and where they want it… even outside normal library hours. Patrons can browse, check out materials, place holds, and return items, all from one convenient spot. Click below to learn more about how an autolend kiosk can boost your library outreach!