An Overview of Literacy

An Overview of Literacy

In recent years, surveys of libraries, newspapers, and magazines have indicated an overall decline in reading among American adults. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an independent government agency that researches and supports artistic enterprise, has conducted surveys of American reading habits for decades. This research indicates that reading rates have been declining since 1980. According to the NEA survey in 2004, fewer than half of American adults read literature.

In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the percentage of adults who read literature declined from 56 percent to 47 percent from 1982 to 2002. NCES also found a positive relationship between level of educational attainment and the amount of literature a person reads, which reinforces the belief that reading proficiency is an important component of academic success.

Critics argue that the NEA's research does not include comic books, graphic novels, reading conducted on the Internet, or other alternative sources. For example, if you read The Voyage of the Beagle or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, you would not be included among adults who read literature. Other research studies also indicate that the number of people engaged in creative writing has remained stable, indicating to some critics that the reports of declining readership are exaggerated.

Among those who agree that the decline in reading in the United States is a problem, there are differing opinions about how to reverse the trend. Potential remedies include increased funding for libraries and for media advertisements promoting books and reading, new elementary and secondary school programs to develop reading habits in children, and the utilization of film, comic books, and other alternative formats to introduce young children to reading.

In addition to the decline in literary reading, the newspaper and magazine industries have witnessed a significant decline in readership and circulation. However, declining newspaper readership has been linked to the increasing popularity of television and Internet news sources.

Some studies indicate that persons who read literature, newspapers, and magazines are more likely to become involved in civic affairs. Some are concerned that declining reading levels are an indication that the intellectual fitness of American society is decaying.

Basic Concepts and Definitions Related to Literacy

Literacy: The ability to read and write.

Literature: Writings such as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays, especially that of recognized artistic value. Also the term is used generally to refer to all written work pertaining to a certain subject or author.

Readership: A broad term referring to groups of people who are believed to read a certain type of written material.

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