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Digital Natives? E-Book Consumption Varies Among Young People

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The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a report focusing on library users and e-book readers aged 16 to 29. Using data gathered in a previous round of surveys, "Younger Americans' Reading and Library Habits" takes a closer look at how high school students, college students, and Americans in their 20s read and use libraries.

I noted a few of these findings in my previous post on Pew libraries research, but the new publication brings some other patterns to light, drawing on qualitative data collected through online interviews.

Many respondents were enthusiastic about the expansion of digital collections in libraries and suggested better patron outreach to improve the range of titles and formats available. A sizable portion of young e-book readers (30 percent) reported reading more in their spare time, reading more in general, and finding reading more "fun" thanks to e-reader access or ownership. A few cautioned against any push for digital resources that might compromise the library's role as community center, particularly for the underprivileged.

In all, the report's findings suggest a diverse range of opinions on what, exactly, public libraries are for. Their perception as places for books remains strong among young participants in the Pew surveys, but perspectives vary on how best to make those books available.

Two qualitative responses quoted in the report gave me pause. Print nostalgia crops up in a few answers, as young people seem to like "the feel of physical books." On the other hand, one panelist expressed hope that "libraries would move their entire catalogs to a digital format." Could this be a vote for all-e-book public libraries? Quite a bit hinges on the word "catalog."

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