Books & weedingThe National Endowment for the Arts announced today yet another study demonstrating that young Americans are reading less. The new study, titled To Read or Not to Read, assembles data from more than 40 research projects that have tracked how much children, young adults, and adults are reading, as well as what they’re reading.

Here’s the sad news from this follow-up to the 2004 NEA study, Reading at Risk, which had already shown how little Americans were reading. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia says,

This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country’s culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children’s educational achievement.”

Key findings: 1) Teens are reading less. Less that one-third of 13-year-olds read daily, and the percentage of 17-year-olds who are nonreaders grew from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

2) Students are graduating high school with less reading ability. “Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005,” the study says, “with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.” Yet scores on third-grade reading tests have risen slightly, and eighth-grade reading test scores have remained flat. Do we see a pattern here?

3) No surprise to many of us: Female 12th graders scored higher – 13 points higher – on 2005 statewide reading tests than male 12th-graders.

Who, or what, is to blame? Take two guesses. For young people, the big bad electronic twins – TV and the Internet – are most responsible. In every study that compares them, Americans are spending many more hours in front of a screen than turning pages – on average, for ages 15 through 24, two hours of TV watching for every seven minutes reading. Library folks, our job lies before us.