Team member and Deakin University PhD candidate Anne-Marie May is researching how booksellers and librarians influence teen recreational reading at the physical sites of bookstores, school libraries, and public libraries. She takes a geographically located approach to investigate the sites of book culture and the networks between them that comprise a local reading ecology for teens. Anne-Marie has selected an inner-Melbourne local government area for her study for its distribution and density of secondary school campuses, public library branches, and independent bookstores, as well as for the cultural and socio-economic diversity of its residents.
Anne-Marie identifies and analyses intermediary practices that impact teen recreational reading from data collected in interviews with booksellers and librarians, and focus groups with secondary school-aged students. These include direct and indirect practices such as book talk, readers’ advisory, read-alikes, shelf-talkers, promotion of local authors, gatekeeping, displays, genrefication of collections, and book clubs. Affective labour underpins the practices of booksellers and librarians and is key to their networks. Anne-Marie’s work promotes understanding the commonalities and differences between the occupation groups, the barriers they face implementing their practices and how their specific positions in a localised reading ecology impacts their work with teen recreational reading. By doing so, her study aims to answer how these cultural intermediaries can increase their impact on teen recreational reading.
Team member and QUT PhD candidate Amy Schoonens is researching the consumption practices of YA fiction on social media by teens and other content creators (including authors and publishers). Amy explores the ways teens use their reading experience to engage in digital and social media spaces creatively, critically, socially, and in ways that represent an extension of their book engagement and recreational reading practices. These practices include:
Reviewing and rating the book
Recreating the book in some form, such as book covers, or character fashion
Curating aesthetics and themes from the book through digital image collages
Creating memes about books and other kinds of fandoms
The Teen Reading project is working with secondary schools in WA, NSW, QLD and VIC to survey Australian teenagers about their reading behaviour. This research aims to better understand how teenagers choose, read and discuss books, to ensure that they are better able to find the books they want to read and to keep them reading for pleasure.
To learn more about the survey, you can watch this short video
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.
I had a pleasurable conversation about reading, empathy, and our new project (at least a bit) on Melbourne RRR on Wednesday 13th November. You can catch it as a podcast. Also speaking was Jane Sullivan about memories of the books of childhood – well worth a listen.
The survey results from the Australia Council and Macquarie University three-year study of Australians’ reading habits are now available on the Australia Council website. It found that word of mouth was the most frequent physical source of information about reading material, and online book retailers and publishers the most common online source. Most readers mix digital and conventional means of reading, and that they read much more than book sales would suggest.
The study also found that 71% of Australians (over the age of 14) believe it’s important for Australian children to read books set in Australia and by Australian authors. See more on the Australia Council website.