Released: September 26, 2013

Little-used books clog library

The phenomenon of certain San Diego Central Library books going unread is hardly unique, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Libraries “are classic long-tail organizations,” Rainie said. “They deal in products, that a relatively small number are very, very popular and very, very compelling to the public, and a large, large number are not used nearly as much and not sought out nearly as much.”

The library catalog search page features a string of best-sellers, like “Never Go Back” by Lee Child, a suspense novel about a military cop, for which there is a waiting line 430 people deep.

By contrast, a reader perusing the hundreds of titles by and about Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky could have the pick of the lot, with no holds on the first 100 items that popped up in a recent search.

That issue predates the Internet, Rainie said.

Libraries are responding to digital trends and demands for more meeting and events space, Rainie said. They have diversified by adding venues for socializing, like the new library’s reading room offering panoramic views of the bay and city, and inventing, like the library’s 3-D printer.


About three-fourths of Americans say they read at least one book — printed or digital — in a year’s time. The percentage of Americans reading digital books is increasing while the percentage reading print is decreasing, from 72 percent in 2011 to 67 percent in 2012, according to a December study co-authored by Rainie.

Among readers, the median number of books read in that 12-month period was six.

Fewer people read books now than they did in the late 1970s, though the most marked shift away from reading occurred in the 1980s.

What do people do instead?

The greatest share of Americans’ leisure time is devoted to watching television, more than two-and-a-half hours on a typical weekday, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics snapshot of people 15 and older. That’s compared to less than 20 minutes that Americans spend reading on a typical weekday.

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