Two stories appeared prominently this week on the ever-popular how illiterate are Americans now? and are books dead yet? themes.
Newsweek's cover story is entitled, "Books Aren't Dead." (Phew!) Subtitled: (They're Just Going Digital.) and further elucidating in a subheading: "Five centuries after Gutenberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is betting that the future of reading is just a click away."
I haven't actually READ the piece yet, but I don't think it will hold many surprises for most librarians. BHPL offers digital content, which is a way of saying, you can download books and movies and music from the BHPL website, using your library card as your authentication into the databases (ie: only BHPL cardholders have access to the digital content, but it is free to them.)
News item number two: according to the latest study by the National Endowment for the Arts released yesterday, Americans are reading less for pleasure and reading with less understanding (test scores are down.) The study, To Read or Not to Read, is a compilation of other reading studies and a follow-up to the NEA's 2004 study Reading at Risk. Putting together many dismal statistics about how little people read at every age level and comparing it to how much television people watch, the bottom line is that Americans are less informed and therefore less capable of participating in civic life or succeed in their personal lives. Other implications of widespread illiteracy are asserted in the report.
The view from the BHPL circulation and reference desks is that people still eagerly wait their turns on the holds waiting lists, request books from other libraries through interlibrary loan, travel from library to library to borrow audiobooks and download audiobooks from the BHPL website, check out piles of childrens books after every storytime, recommend books to purchase, donate piles of books they have read and need space for more in their houses, participate in two library book groups and many community book clubs and so on. So the situation doesn't seem so dire from a librarian's strictly observational point of view. People are reading and using various formats (audio, digital, regular old print) to do so.