Reading and the good life: an analysis of print and digital readers in suburban libraries.

Author:Gao, Yijun


The Good Life, or more specifically, how one lives the Good Life is an age-old topic that has been debated for centuries by some of the greatest thinkers of Western Civilization. From philosophers and psychologists to teachers and writers, this topic has ignited a desire to find an adequate answer to one of humanity's most important, albeit complicated questions: How do you find your Good Life? In The Republic, Plato examines the soul to determine what makes a virtuous person and provides us with insight on the foundation of a good life. Plato's tripartite theory of the soul presents that intellect is the part of the soul that is hungry for truth and knowledge; it is the great seeker of learning (Bloom, 1968). Therefore, life-long reading is one of the best ways for us to gain new knowledge and also has positive effects on our lives.

In a study conducted at the University of Sussex, psychologists found that reading reduced stress levels by 68%. Psychologists organizing this research attributed stress reduction to the concentration reading requires and the journey that a good book takes us on (Chiles, 2009). A group of scientists carried out two studies within three years of one another to measure the effects that fiction has on its readers. Results showed that people who frequently read fiction are able to better understand and empathize with others (Mar, Oatley & Peterson, 2009). More recently, Berns et al (2013) noted that novel reading generates short and long-term positive effects on our brain functions. One conclusion drawn from these studies is that a major benefit of reading short and long fiction is its innate ability to introduce us to different personalities (characters) and different worldviews (perspectives).

The positive impact that reading has on our lives is infinite and crucial throughout the lifespan. Today's book readers have the benefit of selecting from traditional print reading or digital e-reading, which leaves many interesting topics for us to explore.

Research Questions

We argued that reading is the foundation of a good life and examined reading patterns and preferences among library patrons as it relates to format. By analyzing print book and eBook circulation statistics of public libraries, we were able to explore library trends and usage to better understand reader engagement, reader preferences, and reading habits. The research questions of our study are:

  1. How do patrons use their libraries today?

  2. What medium is more popular among adults (print vs. digital)?

  3. What is the preferred genre (fiction vs. nonfiction) among these patrons?

  4. How does user activity changes over the course of one year?

Related Studies

Many studies have examined relationships between print and digital reading preferences. For example, a study conducted at Duke University focused on analyzing the usage of eBooks and print books among the university community (Littman & Connaway, 2004). This study found that "eBooks received 11% more use than comparable print books" (260). The circulation analysis conducted at Duke University focused on an academic library, while our study investigates public libraries and their patrons. It is also important to note that the circulation statistics in our study consist of fiction and nonfiction titles, which falls in the category of recreational reading, reading for pleasure, and popular titles compared to the academic literature examined in the Duke University study.

McKay (2016) analyzed borrowing patterns among library patrons, which examined the differences in browsing a library's catalog within the physical space of the library compared to browsing the library's catalog online. Results showed that library patrons checked out multiple titles while browsing in the physical space of the library. In contrast, patrons tended to check out one title when browsing the online catalog. Similar to the Duke University study, this analysis was also conducted with academic library data from Swinburne University of Technology.

Some studies utilized circulation statistics in order to make informed decisions on collection development. For example, in a research conducted by Adams and Noel (2008), circulation statistics of books were used to analyze and evaluate the collection development policies at Swain Hall Library at Indiana University (i.e. measuring usage of titles and publishers).

Nixon and Saunders (2010) analyzed circulation statistics at Purdue University library and found books purchased as a result of interlibrary loan requests were more popular than books acquired through standard collection development processes. Ujiie and Krashen (2006) conducted a circulation analysis in public libraries and found that award-winning/prize-winning children's books did not experience an increase in circulation.

According to a report published by the Pew Research Center on book reading and reader format preferences in the United States, print books are still the preferred method of reading while e-reading and eBooks (audio books) are on the rise (Perrin, 2016). However, this report neither discusses the preferred genres among readers nor the changing of reading habits based on the non-obtrusive data from public libraries, which leave some knowledge gaps to be filled.

Our study presents a circulation analysis of...

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