At Australia Reads, we’re on a mission to build a reading nation.
Reading is vital to a healthier, happier, more connected nation. However, despite these benefits, 44% of Australians have low or very low literacy, approximately a quarter of Australians did not read a single book over the course of a year, and children’s participation in reading for pleasure has been trending downwards, dropping from 79% in 2018 to 72% in 2022.
To effectively advocate for reading at a national level, we also know it’s important to be able to tell a strong, unified story about the benefits of reading – backed up by reliable research and data – and to share the latest industry learnings from across the world to ensure that our sector remains robust, informed, and forward-thinking.
That’s why, in 2022, Australia Reads embarked on an ambitious research project.
The Australia Reads Research Review provides an audit of recent reading research undertaken in Australia and overseas. The project seeks to find, collate, synthesise, and make this information more accessible to the wider books and reading sector in Australia.
Our goals have been to understand:
What relevant research on reading is currently out there?
What is this research telling us about contemporary reading engagement?
What’s missing from the reading research landscape in Australia – what might we need to research further?
How can we use this information to help the industry reach new and existing readers?
The Research Review will take the most relevant, useable, and timely findings and make them freely accessible to all those who advocate for books and reading in Australia. This information will be released on the Australia Reads website over the coming months, broken down under a range of different subject areas and age groups, to make information easy to use and find.
What follows here is an initial Snapshot of the information collated as part of the Research Review, to introduce the project and provide insights into some of the key information in each segment.
The research around early childhood reading shows the wide-reaching benefits across education, literacy, and health that reading from an early age can have on children. It also demonstrates the considerable influence that parents and families play in establishing reading habits – both as facilitators and demonstrators of reading themselves.
There is a sizeable body of research on the impacts of public libraries and schools as places which nurture and facilitate reading engagement in children – as well as some findings on the potentially negative implications that assigned and curriculum reading can have on perceptions of reading throughout life.
Overwhelmingly, the research showed that choice and autonomy are critical factors for boosting reading motivation in children.
There is also a growing body of research that investigates – and challenges – the gender divide in reading for pleasure from an early age, and provides practical tips for educators and parents.
There is a growing body of research on teen readers, and the changing ways in which they are choosing – or choosing not – to read in the digital era. Interest, time, and competing technologies and leisure activities are all identified as contributing factors to teen’s disengagement with reading.
Research in this area investigates the impacts of early schooling and upbringing on forming reading habits in adolescence, as well as investigating the barriers and opportunities for teens to engage with reading.
In contrast to the research around the reading behaviours of children and teens, there appears to be a striking Australian, and global, scarcity of research around adults’ ongoing engagement with reading.
In terms of reading motivation, ‘finding the time’ was identified as a recurring barrier to reading across a broad spectrum of ages. As an industry, it would be valuable to gain further insights into what these underlying blockers are to allocating time to reading, so as to be able to devise effective counter-strategies and campaigns.
Adults’ income, class, employment status, gender, and self-identification as ‘readers’ has also been shown to affect reading for pleasure in adults – though there is still more to be learned about the intersectional factors that affect adult reading engagement.
The relationship between reading and health has been a source of the majority of the research identified through this audit.
While the proven impacts of reading on longevity have been frequently cited to promote reading, book sales, and borrowing – many of the other positive health impacts haven’t been as widely touted.
From depression and dementia, to empathy and self-esteem, reading is shown to have far-reaching health and wellbeing benefits for young and old readers alike.
There is a growing wealth of information on the ways that people are choosing to read. While print books remained the most popular format, research revealed the growing markets for ebook and audio formats.
Our audit also identified research about the ways in which readers are finding new books – whether through word-of-mouth recommendations from family or friends, or via social media. In particular, there was growing interest in the impact of TikTok on book sales and reading habits.
Local research also highlights the ways that readers value and engage with books by Australian creators, and the importance of fostering a robust and inclusive local books market.
Australia Reads acknowledges the ongoing work and findings of the Australia Council for the Arts and Scholastic, in particular. We also credit the Reading Agency and Demos’ A Society of Readers report from the UK as a valuable resource on the benefits of reading.
This project forms part of Australia Reads’ larger strategic focus on research, sitting alongside recent projects such as the National Reading Survey (2021), and the Live Literature Research Project (2023).
We look forward to sharing more findings of our Research Review over the coming months, and continuing to invest in quality research to give us the tools and insights to build a stronger national reading culture in Australia.
The Australia Reads Research Review is made possible thanks to support from the following funding bodies:
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