Educators, booksellers turn page to rekindle reading for fun

Librarians, teachers and booksellers are discussing how to encourage more people to read books.

Librarians, teachers and booksellers are discussing how to encourage more people to read books. Photo: AAP

Australia would have a better reading culture if there wasn’t such a hierarchy of books, one literacy advocate reckons.

Even in his Sydney office, Ben Bowen from the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has noticed some books are viewed as better than others.

“When someone brings in a trashy romance novel, they do serve that purpose of escape, but there’s almost a shame in that material,” the chief executive told an online forum on Thursday.

Librarians, teachers, booksellers and policymakers are among more than 800 people attending the Volume Symposium to discuss how to get Australians reading more.

According to a recent snapshot from Reading Australia, 44 per cent of Australians have low or very low literacy, while about a quarter of Australians did not read a single book over the course of a year.

For Bowen the barriers are access and etiquette, with libraries for example treating books as assets that need to be protected.

In remote Indigenous communities, making reading not a solitary activity but a social one might help, he said.

“In communities, we tell kids to sit by themselves and read, but when are they ever by themselves?”

The forum comes as research released on Wednesday shows the number of Australians who read for pleasure has fallen.

The proportion of Australians aged 65 and over who read for pleasure has dropped significantly, from 77 per cent to 68 per cent, according to the 2022 National Arts Participation Survey of about 10,000 people.

The portion of people in that age bracket who do not read print books at all has jumped from a quarter in 2019, to 35 per cent.

The number of children reading for pleasure has also fallen, from 79 per cent in 2018 to 72 per cent in 2022, Reading Australia figures show.

Yet there’s been huge growth in audiobooks, ebooks and graphic novel readership, according to Reading Australia’s Anna Burkey, who says it’s a complex picture.

“What we need is a greater understanding about reading behaviours, and a more conscious national approach to make sure we can scale up the programs that are working,” she told AAP.

“Finding the time” was a barrier to reading across different age groups, but there is a scarcity of research globally and in Australia about adult reading habits, said Ms Burkey.

Talking about why people read and what they get out of it is key, she said.

“Reading is awesome, and we want more of it.”

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