BY KYLIE YEATMAN
Given the barrage of entertainment options at the fingertips of the average teenager, it’s a common belief that literacy is decreasing among teens, who may choose to succumb to the advent of their phones over the written word. Despite this discouraging reality, librarians have made it their goal now more than ever to help teens find a passion for books that they may not have otherwise discovered.
“Carmel teens are just as passionate about reading as ever,” Harrison Memorial Library librarian Lisa Walling says. “Our annual statistics show they are borrowing books, magazines and audiobooks from the library and downloading them from our website just as much as ever.”
As revealed by statistics from Harrison Memorial, the number of overall works checked out by teen readers throughout the 2010s actually saw an increase since 2012, with 611 total books being checked out by teenagers in 2019, compared to 419 in 2012.
The importance of encouraging teen readership is emphasized by the percent of teens who consistently read books for their own personal entertainment: According to a 2018 American Psychological Association study, less than 20 percent of teens reported reading a book, magazine or newspaper for their own enjoyment.
“There’s so much easily digestible content available to teenagers,” Carmel High senior Cameron DeBellis comments. DeBellis notes that it took finding a book on his own that he was specifically interested in, that being Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club,” to spark an organic interest in reading outside of the classroom.
While it’s possible to use digital media to read books online, the variety of entertainment options available to teens tends to be a pull factor from reading.
“Teenagers have a lot of other online hobbies [other than reading,]” says avid reader Shannon Jackson, a CHS junior who largely focuses her reading on fiction and fantasy novels. “For me, reading is fun because I’m a very visual person, but some kids might not just want to stare at a page.”
Many active teenage readers at CHS note their belief that teenagers choose not to read during the school year because they might be put off by being obligated to read in school.
Acknowledging the apathy that some students have towards reading for pleasure, CHS librarian Eileen Schnur has made strides in the library to highlight books proven to be popular among teenagers.
“We try to have students do reviews on the book they hand in and ask them if it’s something that they’d recommend to other students,” explains Schnur, noting a section of the library devoted to teen recommendations.
In both the CHS library and the Harrison Memorial Library, an uptick in the popularity of comic books and graphic novels has been observed. Librarians note that these books can serve as an entry point into making reading a consistent hobby, as they’re more accessible.
Libraries also takes into account the popularity of audiobooks and e-books among younger readers. Having someone read the book directly to them can be ideal for traveling or multi-tasking and can be easier to focus on for some readers. Junior Xander Selby-Lara explains his use of audiobooks in tandem with physical books to create a more connected reading experience.
“Reading that way helps me connect some of the smaller plot points, symbols and ideas that I would most likely have missed on otherwise,” explains Selby-Lara, who adds that having ADHD can make it difficult for him to solely focus on a physical book.
Walling adds that the mingling of technology and books will be a big part of the future of the library, especially for teen readers.
“The more people know they can load books and audiobooks onto their smartphones or iPads, the more often they seem to want to,” Walling says. “We definitely see teens doing this more and more.”
The expansion of Harrison Memorial’s focus on teen readers began after the library organized what they call a “teen lounge” for young readers, which includes a selection of young-adult and fantasy titles that were previously more difficult to find in the library. Further encouragement for teen readership comes from their Teen Advisory Board, which looks to tailor the library to the specific desires of teen readers.