Summer Focus Groups

‘It’s like watching a movie in my head’

During the January school holidays we ran a short range of focus groups with teenagers in South Australia and regional and urban Victoria. We asked participants about sources of book recommendations, where they access books and how their reading habits are changing.

Family members and school librarians overwhelmingly stand out as the main sources of recommendations (‘… my school librarian: she’s really nice and she sort of picks up what kind of book you might like’). The school library is also the main source for teenagers to get their hands on books. Most participants also share their views of the books they are reading in their local communities – with extended family members, school friends, and familiar adults.

Participants talked about reading in order to take ‘a break for my brain’, to relax and unwind before sleep, but also to fulfil their curiosity about the world, using examples of historical and political events that feature in fiction. They also read non-fiction, such as mechanical engineering and environmental science, in order to be better informed to do something. ‘It’s so I can improve the environment, my interactions with others, and the outcome of my life’. Some told us they only read when they were bored and ‘that’s the only thing I have got to do’.

But no matter their motivation for reading, what participants look for in a book was quite consistent. For fiction, it’s a compelling narrative, with a plot twist, and ideally some humour. For non-fiction, it’s books that tap into and help them to develop existing interests.

New funding!

Australian Research Council Grant

Discovering a ‘good read’: Pathways to reading for Australian teens

Breaking news (July 2019) – the next phase of our research has received funding through the ARC’s Linkage Projects scheme.

The scheme is designed to support research of national benefit linked to government, industry and professional partners.

Our partners include Queensland University of Technology, University of Canterbury (Christchurch), the Australian Copyright Agency, the Australian Booksellers Association, the Australian Publishers Association, the Australian Library and Information Association, and the School Library Association of Victoria.

During the next few years we will map the network of influences that shape young people’s reading practices, including digital and other social contexts.

Working with our expert partners in the book, library and education industries, we will use our findings to develop strategies for empowering young Australians to read more.




Are School Librarians Important?

The Teen Reading pilot survey found that a higher proportion of students rated the provision of good books by their school library as a better motivator of more reading than local public or community libraries. While browsing the informative website of the  Australian Association of School Libraries we were interested to find a recent study which investigated the differences in learning outcomes for schools with or without trained librarians. It found that:

Students are more likely to succeed when they have library programs that are well staffed, well funded, technologically well equipped, well stocked, and more accessible. And, the neediest learners may benefit the most from trained librarians and quality library programs.

How often do Australian teens read for pleasure?

The Teen Reading survey asked young people a few questions about how frequently and how much they read in their free time. We were specifically interested in recreational reading, not school or homework. Here’s an early analysis of what we found when we asked how often they read for fun in an average week.



If this seems a lot of teens who don’t read much, we should keep in mind that this statistic only refers to free time, long form reading – study and social media not included!



What do teens think about reading on digital devices?

The Teen Reading study asked a number of questions about young people’s reading preferences and experiences, in both “open fields” in our survey and in interviews. Teens were able to tell us in their own words about how they felt about  reading in general and about reading long form texts using digital platforms. An interim, single researcher coding of the question “How do you feel about reading on digital devices?” yielded the following breakdown:

  • Around 63% said that they preferred reading paper books, or that they disliked reading on digital devices
  • Around 12-13% leaned towards paper books but had some positive things to say about eReading on devices

“I like reading real books in my hand … but with eBooks on small devices, I can carry multiple books easily without worrying about bending pages in my bag…”

  • Around 12% preferred eBooks, mainly because they found it easier to search for them, or felt that it was easier to get hold of them free of charge

“I read a lot on devices because it is easier than having to buy every book you read”

  • Around 13% didn’t provide an answer or said that they really didn’t like reading at all.



It hurts my eyes (but only when reading)

iPads and other LCD tablets are widely used in educational settings. They are ‘do it all’ devices which can perform many functions. They can be cameras, music players, web browsers, as well as displaying text word processing or notetaking software, or in book apps such as Kindle, iBooks, Wattpad, BorrowBox, and so on.

Tablets are great for research, gameplay, recording and creating content, as well as being platforms for reading. Their responsive touch-screen interface is intuitive enough for even toddlers to use them for animated video and simple games. On the other hand, eReaders such as the Kindle, Sony eReader, and Kobo, are single function devices – they are meant simply to read on!

Adolescents participating in the Teen Reading survey were much more likely to have regular access to a tablet rather than an eReader. Many of the comments made by teens highlighted their iPad/Tablet’s attractiveness for playing games on, but also indicated that they used their tablet in both recreational and school settings.

But when asked about barriers to reading more on devices, those with access to a dedicated eReader were half as likely to report eyestrain than tablet users.

This is probably because eReaders use electronic ink, specifically designed to mimic the appearance of print on paper, and studies have shown that they are perceived by adult users to be as readable as print. They reflect ambient light rather than emitting light. On the other hand, iPads use backlighting as a screen technology. They look very much like computer and video screens, and emit light waves which, as with other kinds of screens, has been associated with visual fatigue.

Perhaps the added dynamism and different eye-tracking movements required by linear media and gameplay allows users to ignore that tiredness more readily than when reading!

Where do adolescents read eBooks?

Often we think of  eBooks as being more portable – going on the road more than those heavy-to-lug paper door stoppers. In our Teen Reading pilot survey we asked Australian adolescents where they usually read eBooks. They could pick multiple locations, but guess what came top of the list for those mobile marvels? The bedroom and shared spaces at home!

Almost 90% of females picked the bedroom, with over 70% of boys selecting the same. For shared spaces at home, it was around 45% and 35% respectively. Girls seemed to like reading outdoors and on public transport more than boys, but of course, this doesn’t take into account the other activities they might choose to do in these places.

Victorian Fieldwork Complete

During August and September the team visited a further 5 schools for data collection – ranging from outer metropolitan to regional and rural centres.

This iconic Ballarat streetscape was one of our transit stops to a nearby school.

Distance from Melbourne certainly makes a difference to the culture and demographics of schools in former country towns. Some, like the mystery school whose carpark outlook features, draw pupils from a range of nearby population centres. Our outer metropolitan schools were the most notable for their mix of ethnicities, and more students from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Our final sample for the Teenagers Reading survey came in at just over 550 respondents. Just over half of these were female. The ages ranged from 10 to 18, with the bulk of the sample being 12-16 year-olds. Most listed the place they lived as “City (including suburbs)”, with 20% from small country towns or rural properties.