Friday, July 09, 2004

NEA Study - Reading At Risk

Well, I can't figure out how to edit comments so I'll just add a posting. George commented on my last post by drawing our attention to the July 7 release of the NEA study Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, done on behalf of the NEA by the US Census Bureau.

The Boston Globe in a report on the study says: "The report found a 10 percent overall drop in literary reading -- from 56.9 percent to 46.7 percent of Americans -- since 1982. What that means is that fewer than half of Americans had read a novel, short story, play, or poem in the preceding year." And the Washington Post quotes the chairman of the NEA: "'Reading at Risk' merely documents and quantifies a huge cultural transformation that most Americans have already noted -- our society's massive shift toward electronic media for entertainment and information,' said Dana Gioia, the poet who is NEA chairman, in the preface to the 60-page study."

And if you've looked at the ARL statistics on the precipitous drops in reference and circulation transactions over the last 10+ years, the NEA findings won't be a surprise. So, what's the core business of the library in an era of declining appetites for our traditional services?

3 comments:

Jeff said...

Topic: "And if you've looked at the ARL statistics on the precipitous drops in reference and circulation transactions over the last 10+ years, the NEA findings won't be a surprise. So, what's the core business of the library in an era of declining appetites for our traditional services?"

Comment: I don't think statistics all point in the same direction. For example the same ARL statistics show a huge increase in interlibrary lending. The ARL ILL trend seems to be declining, but the number of transactions remains high. This makes sense to me since the trend line for borrowing from public libraries has also been rising, both absolute numbers of items circulated and circulation per capita, and the curves don't seem to be flattening in this case. These stats are supported by other data indicating - to me - that books are likely to remain a core business for many libraries. I'm thinking of the recent announcements of big increases in numbers of books published and of big decreases in numbers of books sold. In addition, it occurs to me there may be more than one valid interpretation of the NEA data. It could be that the number of readers of non-literary books has not declined; NEA data show that readership for all books (literary and non-literary) has remained flat over the past decade.

All this could mean that OCLC's core business will remain an essential one in coming years: thousands of libraries will continue to benefit from the cataloging collaboration that enables them to serve a book-hungry public. I don't see this as contradicting the future fameworks outlined in the Scan, but I worry about the short-term tendency to devalue cataloging as, in the long-term, we prepare new and better processes for access and control.

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