Changes in reading habits during the pandemic


Perhaps you’ve noticed changes in your reading habits over the past year and a half. Personally, I have felt that I don’t have the same attention span for a long reading session and finishing a book quickly (or at all) during this time, and I’ve wondered about that. As it turns out, a lot of people have wondered about that, and there are some interesting studies. Here’s a sampling of information – including our own local reading habits – that correlate to the current pandemic.

According to one UK study, “One of the earliest and most notable changes seen during the Covid-19 lockdown was how we consume media and especially how we read.”

Many people went back to old books. They never had a chance to read them before? They decided there was something to gain by re-reading them? The reasons aren’t always the same or clear. But consumer interest in books about isolation rose, including Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s two books, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Life in the Time of Cholera. This theme carried over to what we stream, with 28 Days Later, Contagion and Outbreak having a significant streaming increase. While one might think people would have an urge to escape, many readers also look for stories that reflect their own anxieties and struggles to process the isolation and concern with contagious disease. The UK study also noted the decrease in ability to concentrate.

Book Riot also pointed to the decline in concentration (a near universal observation) as well as many people going outside their usual genres. Book Riot also found that independent bookstores and Amazon were the big winners in terms of book purchasing habits. I noticed that Literati, my favorite indie bookstore located in Ann Arbor, beefed up its online sales during this time.

The current Manager of Content Curation at the Chicago Public Library system (1.7 million patrons so a lot of data there) noted the considerable increase in people reading e-books. He noted that this increase has kept going even when the library opened again. Another change – even when patrons gained entry to libraries again, they browsed less and tended to grab books on hold and leave. Audiobooks also soared. More people quit reading before they finished their books and preferred short readings.

Library Director Pamela Williams reviewed the second quarter 2021 with the Board of Directors in August, and there are some similar trends. Remember that the second quarter of 2020 essentially saw the library close while in 2021 it has been open and operating pretty normally. As other studies noted, electronic and audio books are big winners in 2020 and even now. For example, Overdrive e-books and audiobooks were available in both 2020 and 2021. Overdrive e-books were actually 600 down in 2021 and while audiobooks were stronger in 2021, they were also strong, all things considered, in 2020.

But circulation in totality was strong both years – 51,942 in 2021 and 47,200 in 2020. Patrons who use the library still used the library, and people were more open to e-books and audiobooks.

Our library appears to track trends similar to other libraries in the US and other countries as well as reading habits outside of libraries.

If you’re one of the people whose concentration has taken a hit, you might consider something completely different than your usual reading, and you should think about asking one of our helpful librarians to find you something new that could spark a flame.

It appears that, as readers, we really are in this together. See you at the Library!


(By Roz Weedman for publication in the Frankenmuth News on Sept. 1, 2021.)

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