Readers and Non-Readers

The Decline in Readers

Over the past few years, I have been deeply concerned about declining reading scores. And despite my best efforts, there is an overall decrease in readers in my library. I always try to provide support and materials for readers who might struggle with reading and who have learning disabilities. But this decline seems to have little to do with diagnosed disabilities and more to do with changing times.

The elephant in the room:

The decline in reading seems to fall into one of three categories: distraction, overwhelm, and/or overwork. The distractions include anything from simply being an adolescent in the traditional sense and being an adolescent in the digital age. Students are overwhelmed now more than ever with the stress of getting into the “right college.” Finally,  students are overworked because they are taking advanced courses that leave absolutely no time for anything extra.

Types of Readers

Most who work with readers use a linear progression to explain ability rather than motivation. This Scholastic resource uses categories like advanced, proficient, basic, and struggling readers. YALSA has quick picks for “reluctant readers.” These can either be for struggling or simply unmotivated readers. When discussing the reading decline there is a disconnect between young readers and the adults in their lives. Many adults are certainly blaming technology for the decline.

In an effort to bridge the generational gap, I reach back to the 1920 Hermann Hesse essay titled On Reading Books. Though Hesse does not always specifically label the reading personalities, I have found a tremendous resource in Maria Popova’s interpretation of the types.

Instead of the traditional hierarchical approach, Popova advises:


The Hermann Hesse image is from the Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989.

“He [Hesse ] outlines three key types, which can similarly coexist within a single reader over the course of a lifetime …”

The first personality is the “Naïve Reader.” The “Naïve Reader” is reading for content whether for business or pleasure. The second personality is the “Curious Investigative Reader.” This reader digs deeper, beyond the superficial to find intent and meaning. And the third type is the “Associative Thinking Reader.” Popova actually calls this reader a “non-reader.” I believe this might very well describe today’s digital reader. This reader sees reading as stimulus. The “Associative Thinking Reader” might use reading to create and to develop connections. This last type fits very well into the digital reading world and some might conclude the type fits into the makerspace movement.

What Is the “AntiLibrary?”

After reading the Hesse article, I clicked over to another of Popova’s articles, this time about Umberto Eco and the concept of the “Antilibrary.” Using Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,  Popova explains that Eco saw a library not as an ego-bolstering collection of books that one has already read, but instead as a rich untapped resource. Profoundly, Taleb concluded, “Read books are far less valuable than unread ones.”

This article had me questioning the idea, “Is the Internet an ‘AntiLibrary’ of sorts?” At our fingertips are rich databases that once required massive library real estate. Project Gutenberg has 54,000 e-books, and the CIA World Factbook provides detailed information for 267 world entities. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a massive online public library. These examples are a mere drop in the bucket when imagining the ocean of information available online. Whole reference sections can be accessed on smartphones and other personal devices. This being said, do we have a crisis or an incredible opportunity? Does technology lead to a decline in reading, or will technology lead to the world’s largest reference library?

Of course, I see the glass half full and the sky is NOT falling …

Is Social Media Part of the “AntiLibrary?”

I have found in the past year that one constant source of communication, entertainment, and information for our young readers is the social media platform Snapchat. But did you know that students can read legitimate news on the platform? On March 2, 2017, Snapchat went public. The Snapchat Discover platform is packed with media and news. It has everything from the Wall Street Journal to BuzzFeed. Check out the Snapcode charts on my blog. I am hoping to also develop a “how to cite” Snapchat Discover post very soon



DoDea. “Professional Development Modules: Four Types of Readers.” Department of Defense, or the Department of Defense Education Activity. Scholastic, n.d. Web. 27 July 2017.

Ludden, Jennifer. “Why Aren’t Teens Reading Like They Used To?” NPR. National Public Radio, 12 May 2014. Web. 27 July 2017. <>.

Popova, Maria. “Hermann Hesse on the Three Types of Readers and Why the Most Transcendent Form of Reading Is Non-reading.” Brain Pickings. Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, 11 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2017.

Popova, Maria. “Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are More Valuable to Our Lives than Read Ones.” Brain Pickings. Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 July 2017.

Wallace, Kelly. “50% of Teens Feel Addicted to Their Phones, Poll Says.” CNN. Cable News Network, 29 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2017. <>.

YALSA. “2017 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.” Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). ALA – YALSA, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.

Graphics are from a SlidesCarnival template


Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Dear Hannah,
    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I was previously unaware of Popova’s types of readers.

    The “Curious Investigative Reader,” who digs “deeper, beyond the superficial to find intent and meaning” is the type I hope school librarians will collaborate with classroom teachers to develop with our future-ready students.

    As we know, the online “ocean” of ideas, information, and misinformation cries out for curious, investigative readers who can navigate uncertain seas. Close, deep reading is required.

    If we agree that “mindsets” can be grown, then I hope we believe reader types are mutable and will strive to support all types in becoming thoughtful, critical readers–regardless of the source of their reading material.


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