May 19, 2024

Libraries Still an Important Discovery Source for Kids’ Books, Says Study

Bowker survey also finds ebooks are growing in favor among teens, but with barriers to adoption

When it comes to finding out about good books for children and teens, there’s more to it than “Bookstores and libraries are still very important in discovery,” says Kelly Gallagher, VP of Publishing Services at RR Bowker, who presented key findings from the survey “Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age” at last month’s Digital Book World.

Conducted by Bowker Market Research, the survey of 2,000 parents of kids ages 0–12 and 1,000 teens ages 13–17 also revealed some interesting stats regarding ebooks. While most parents (75 percent) have not yet bought an ebook, the rate for teens reading digital titles tripled from 2010 to 2011. Additionally, the survey underscored a potential discrepancy in what parents report about kids’ desire for print over digital books versus children’s actual preferences.

Where do you find out about titles for children 0–6 and 7–12?

In purchasing books for kids 7–12, parents primarily learned about titles from the kids themselves and by a wide margin: 72 percent. For this same age range, 44 percent discovered titles at a bookstore, while 34 percent learned about books at the public library, 31 percent from teachers, and 28 percent from the school library. As for Amazon, 19 percent of parents learned about titles for their child aged 7–12 from the online retailing giant.

For children ages 0–6, bookstores were the main source of discovery: 42 percent. Next came school book fairs (25 percent), then public libraries (23 percent). Meanwhile, an equal number of parents learned about titles from the child themselves and, 21 percent; teachers and school libraries, 15 and 13 percent respectively.

The importance of the library’s role in discovery echoes the results of Patron Profiles, an ongoing research series by SLJ sister publication Library Journal and Bowker PubTrack Consumer. “We know that 39 percent of our Power Patrons [those who visit the public library at least weekly] have kids under 18 years old,” says Barbara Genco, LJ’s collection development editor and project manager for Patron Profiles. “Though we have not filtered by age level of the content, we learned that 37 percent of Power Patrons have purchased a book they’d previously borrowed from their library and 61 percent of Power Patrons have purchased books by authors they were introduced to at their local library. In short: public libraries are prime ‘discovery zones’ for high quality, ‘curated’ content in all formats for all ages.”

Ebooks: parents and kids weigh in on why they do—and why they don’t—read digitally

While parents have yet to make the leap, 56 percent of adult respondents expect to begin reading ebooks themselves in the near future.

Why aren’t their kids reading ebooks? They don’t have a device—35 percent of parents cited this as a critical factor for not going digital. Other major reasons include: reading a print book helps kids focus (38 percent); less distraction from other content (34 percent); and they’ve already got enough technology in their life (29 percent).

About parents reporting that their kids “strongly prefer print books” (46 percent and 37 percent respectively for kids 0 to 6 and 7 to 12), researchers questioned whether this reflected parental attitudes more than kids’ actual preferences.

Teen ereading

Among teens, the value of books overall is rising as compared to other media. Twenty-three percent of teens in 2011 reported that books have a more important role, compared to 17 percent reporting the same in the previous year. The Bowker study points to a possible association with the rise in ebook usage.

When it comes to technology hardware, this past holiday season marked an occurrence of note: 60 percent of teens reported receiving devices as hand-me downs—as in Mom and Dad got an upgrade via Santa. Given their choice, teens, hands down, preferred Apple products across the board, from iPhones and iPod Touches to the iPad tablet.

As for sticking points to reading on mobile devices? It’s the size of the screen, by far—even for teens.


Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (, @kishizuka on Twitter) is Executive Editor of School Library Journal.