Research Proposal




Research Proposal: Reluctant Readership among Teenagers in Southern California


Susan M. Lee

Lib. 285

School of Library & Information Science

San Jose State University

                                                                                                Fall 2014








Literacy is an important issue affecting society today. Reluctant readers come in all shapes and sizes. Yet reluctant readers are often mischaracterized as being illiterate or close to it. They don’t like to read because of various background factors such as language barriers, access, or learning disabilities. The truth is close to the idea that reluctant readers can read but they simply don’t like to. Or at least they believe they don’t. Librarians can play a major role in fostering literacy and changing this attitude. My study will review current literature and studies available on reluctant readers, and attempt to improve on them with additional information. I will examine how libraries address reluctant readers, their methods used (whether they are the same methods for teenage boys and girls, and adult men and women), and their effectiveness.




The 2014 Quick Picks List, which suggests recommended books aimed at teenage children between the ages of 12 to 18 who do not generally like to read, presented at the recent American Library Association [ALA] Midwinter Meeting features 77 titles and 3 series. The list is often varied – featuring zombies (popular due to the Walking Dead series), dystopia (featured in Hunger Games and Divergent), graphic novels, romance, action and mystery novels, dogs, and more. Some of the recent picks include a novel set in 1962 about ten people stuck in a bomb shelter meant for four called “Fallout” by Todd Strasser, the zombie-filled “Undead” by Kirsty McKay, “Uses for Boys” by Erica Lorraine Scheidt about a teenage girl struggling with sex and love, a guide on “How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language,” “A Little Book on Sloths,” and “The Fashion Book.”[1]

The list is published by Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA), a national organization of librarians, library workers and advocates, in association with the ALA. YALSA’s mission is to “expand and strengthen library services for teens” by making sure to engage, educate, and support teens. Many think that literacy issues should focus on young children, not older ones. But teenagers are not simply children, despite their age. The teenage years are a “developmental stage that requires a different strategic approach in order to effectively understand, connect with, and serve them.” [2]

According to Snowball in her article “Teenage Reluctant Readers and Graphic Novels,” children stop visiting their local public library between the ages of 14 and 20, which affects their decline in reading. In verbal discussions with teenage boys, they described reading as “boring,” “difficult,” “hard,” and too time consuming (2005). Yet a recent study in Canada revealed the opposite, with teenage boys stated that they liked to read but that they had lost interest in reading. A survey in Reading Today showed that 29.8% of teenage boys surveyed stated that they lacked the free time to read, while 39.3% stated that reading is boring.[3]It doesn’t state how the surveys were administered, or if the responses were confidential. Teenagers or children may give answers that are what they think is more normal or popular. Reading is seen as boring by some, and (wrongly) ‘feminine.’

According to Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science, every reader has his or her own book and every book has its reader. Even those who do not like to read in general can find something they like to read. Librarians and teachers must help put the two together so a reluctant reader can be turned into an avid reader. There has been a range of factors affecting teenage readership in the past, many of which are still factors today including judgment for reading choices, peer pressure, reading level, taste in materials, accessibility, and adult role models.


Literature Review


A review of recent literature on reluctant teenage readers and public libraries found several interesting articles on the issues at hand, some more diverse in their findings and conclusions than others. Below is a historical background, with challenges and current research findings and gaps.

Many public library programs address literacy are typically focusing on young children, foreign language speakers (ESL), or adults rather than teenagers. Internal studies completed look at budgets, circulation numbers, patron statistics, and management issues rather than specific items that are harder to measure such as literacy skills, or programming effectiveness.


Public libraries across the country create popular programming involving video games, comics, or music, and offer incentives such as free Internet access, contests, or food. The Chippewa River District Library System held their first Minecraft event with the assistance of a teen advisory board member. Many teens began playing the game on the library servers. One reluctant teen reader began playing the game at the branch library and has become an avid manga reader.[4] It’s important to get the teen population to even step foot into the library by drawing them in with something special. Other public libraries in California offer book clubs, craft activities, homework help, summer reading programs, movie nights, and author talks.

Teens need an inviting space where teens can feel comfortable and safely hang out with their friends, which is a far cry from the stereotypical and common image of librarians shushing them. It’s important for public libraries to have a positive atmosphere with appealing displays and materials for young people who may feel that they don’t belong in a library since they don’t read. Recognizing and addressing community needs are two things that are hard to measure.

With the financial aid of a national grant, the Santa Barbara Public Library addresses the issue of literacy via the Juntos Leemos/Read Together Program, which targets reluctant readers and low-literacy families by promoting read-aloud time between parent and child, siblings/ buddies, or other trained volunteer mentors. Post program evaluations showed that reluctant readers participating developed an increased interest in reading, especially those partnered with siblings.[5]

Of 111 children, 89% of those with a younger sibling had read at least one book with them and 56% had read over 5 books with them. 63% of participant parents stated that they observed their child reading more with a sibling or buddy than usual. Of summer camp participants, 2/3rds stated that they would return to the public library after the program finished. 75% of the camo participants noted an increased awareness of how to utilize public library services. They also stated that they felt more comfortable going to the public library after a tour with the summer camp counselors. Of the 34% of reluctant readers who stated that reading was ‘okay,’ ‘not so fun,’ or ‘not fun at all,’ 72% stated that they preferred reading with someone than reading alone. 65% of that same group reported that they were more motivated to read if they were reading with someone. [6]

Although we tend to think of reading as a solitary activity, reading can be made into a group or social, family activity particularly to encourage at-risk youth and reluctant readers. To recruit reluctant readers, library staff or volunteers would visit local schools or summer camps for low-income families. Participants were given incentives such as ice cream parties. The program showed that libraries can serve as a community touchstone for families and volunteers with the right outreach. Confidence levels can increase if reading is made into a group activity.

There’s a general consensus that teen collections should include relevant and recognizable, colorful, and popular books filled with action, drama, and sometimes romance. There is much academic literature supporting the inclusion of graphic novels and comic books into public and school library collections to appeal to teenagers. According to Schneider in his article “A Survey of Graphic Novel Collection and Use in American Public Libraries,” which surveyed the use of graphic novels and video games in public libraries, the primary users were young readers. Almost all the public libraries who voluntarily participated in the survey had graphic novels in their collections, making the medium a “near-ubiquitous part” of library collections. His research inferred graphic novels were an effective use as a gateway to adult literacy. Whereas once they were dismissed as “lurid,” “crude,” and “problematic” due to the immortality and violence often depicted, graphic novels are now widely accepted as a great way to encourage literacy and reading (Schneider 2014).

Indeed, graphic novels are a high-interest “magnet” for reluctant readers. They can help “improve language and literacy development,” particularly for non-English speakers. Exposing children to “lighter” reading such as comics and graphic novels is a gateway to fictional novels and other ‘heavier’ reading fare (Crawford 2004). The cover art and non-traditional format, lack of intimidating factor, as well as “low readability levels” are what appeal to teenage reluctant readers the most (Crawford 2005).

There are many resources for developing teen collections with graphic novels, comic books, and other non-traditional media, as well as information on how to order, catalog, and maintain them. There are organizations like YALSA and websites like Guys Read (, a web-based literacy program aimed at boys to help shape them into lifelong readers. Guys Read encourages young men to read. According to the U.S. Department of Education “To Read or not To Read” Report, there is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Both “reading ability and reading habits” tends to halt during the teenage years despite measurable progress in elementary school. Because they read less, their reading skills decline, which reads to a decline in academic achievement. Poor reading and writing ability in turn affects their employment later on. The study is careful to point out correlations rather than a cause/effect pattern. For instance, someone with a daily reading habit more typically correlates with an increase in reading skills and academic achievement.[7]

Ferrarra’s article “Reading Fluency and Self-Efficacy” argued that beginning and less-skilled older readers exhibit potential fluency reading problems. She describes fluent readers as able to demonstrate “automaticity in word recognition, good word attack strategies, use self-correction, good comprehension skills, smooth reading, and flowing manner with appropriate expression.” One needs sufficient fluency to become a rapid and efficient reader (216). Ferrarra argues that confidence levels and reading are tightly intertwined. She attempted to connect self-efficacy, a self-assessment of how one feels they accomplished or performed a task, with

Ferrarra examined a pre-adolescent girl who was a struggling reader despite living in a literate household. The girl was selected based on grade level, below average reading level, reading fluency level, and school teacher’s recommendations. Her method was to conduct a study using one-to-one instructional intervention of paired reading (matching up a reader with high reading fluency with a reader with lower reading fluency), with reading conversations to understand and explore the general experience of possessing reading difficulties. Ferrarra recorded each session and used a graduate student as an impartial observer. But Ferrarra was studying how fast the girl could read words aloud, without omitting or adding any, or mispronouncing any words. Ferrarra would follow up with questions on how the girl felt about her accomplishment and how well she felt she did. A single subject study seems limited especially with only studying oral reading. Other factors may affect the subject’s reading ability. Every reader is different. The self-questioning method did not seem reliable.

In 2004, Strommen and Mates presented a larger survey of children in 6th and 9th grades to determine their attitudes toward reading and to find factors associated with the development of a love of reading using a questionnaire to separate readers from non-readers. They examined the characteristics of the teenagers, differences and similarities between the readers and non-readers, identified methods to encourage reading and the role of the family in affecting readership.

They identified earlier studies that link a home environment that supports literacy and reading with literacy development and reading ability. Their review of earlier research findings also pointed out that even skilled youth readers have devoted little leisure time to reading since the 1940s although no generalizations or statements were made about the reasons or attitudes behind the pattern. The amount of television watched had no discernible correlation on amount of time spent reading. Their own questionnaire survey was submitted to a cross-section of sixth and ninth grade students who lived a suburban area outside a large U.S. city in the Northeast. The students ranged from remedial to honors students.

The questionnaire was peppered with statements to decipher if the respondent is a reader or non-reader, such as “I enjoy reading a good book,” and reader or non-reader responses, I enjoy reading a book versus I do not enjoy reading a good book. Another question was “Books read in the past three years,” with the reader response as 20 or more, and non-reader responses as 0 to 5.

But the questions seem to be missing gaps, and open-ended questions. It doesn’t ask or allow for specifics. Some of the respondents may not recall exactly how many books they have read since three years is a long period. And it doesn’t allow for the exact titles to be given so a pattern or preference can be pulled out i.e. the respondent prefers to read biographies, sci-fi, or comic books. Good may vary in definition depending on the respondent; good could be critically acclaimed or a best-seller or good could mean a book they enjoy. If it is the former meaning, and the respondent prefers to read more “popular,” less critically-received titles, or comic books, they may answer no when it is actually yes. They could be closet readers, making their responses untruthful. The study also does not address their local library systems, how far away from their home the nearest library is, how many times they visit, or what services/programs they are aware of, etc.

The study was intended to identify young children who enjoyed reading as part of their regular recreational activities, intentionally excluding reading skill and academic achievement as factors or considerations. Only 8% or 12 out of 151 children in the study met their criteria. The questionnaire was administered by classroom teachers who followed a specific set of instructions. Their survey concluded that “children’s views of recreational and academic reading are tied to reading ability as well as to community norms and beliefs,” with attitudes ranging from enthusiasm to indifference (Strommen 2004). The study by Strommen and Mates doesn’t address if respondents are given sustained silent reading during school hours or at home, where they can read for set period of time, materials of their choosing.

Many reluctant readers or “would-be” readers are overwhelmed by the size and amount of books when they enter the library according to John Royce’s article “Surviving Information Overload: Lessons from the Reading Reluctance Research” (1997). Non-readers don’t know where to start in their information overload. A typical reader would know what they are looking for …the latest best-selling novel, or science-fiction title. Maybe an autobiography, cookbook, or poetry book next. A non-reader would not have a strategy so to speak, which is more specific than just browsing the stacks or the online catalog. A “techniques [such] as reading more by a known author, getting a friend’s recommendation, following a genre or a series, looking at covers, and so on“ is more important where reluctant readers are concerned since they are more likely to read if given the freedom to choose (Royce 1997). Yet when selecting a title is a chore or a hard task, reluctant readers by nature won’t be able to get too far.

Two recent studies by Young Australians Reading: From Keen to Reluctant Readers and Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities on Australian teenage boys’ reading habits debunked the typical stereotypes of their reading (or lack thereof) habits. Eight out of ten teenage boys and girls surveyed agreed that books are exciting. Forty-nine percent of boys compared to fifty-eight percent of girls read every day or every few days. Overall, 69% of boys surveyed stated that they enjoyed reading, compared to 80% of girls surveyed that enjoyed reading. The gap isn’t that large. Forty-one percent of boys thought reading was boring, 45% found it nerdy. Only 23% thought reading was cool.

Reading for pleasure ranked about the same as other activities such as sports and television. Sixty-five percent of teen boys agreed that they thought reading was not relevant and preferred more social activities that they could do with friends. The general conclusion made was that most teens would read if they had more free time, space (such as a teen area in the library), and given the right material (Horton 2005).

A 2011 study by Vivian Howard sought to discover the attitudes of 12 to 15-year old children towards public libraries in Canada using a mixed methodology of survey and focus groups. Howard used a disproportionate stratified sample and multistage clustering – mailing 900 surveys to middle school students. Of the 900 surveys, 249 surveys were returned and found usable. Of those willing respondents, 9 focus groups of 7 to 12 students each were formed for qualitative research to further explore library-related issues related to the study.

Howard did conclude that active teen readers used the public library more than reluctant teen readers. But Howard’s main conclusion was that public libraries need to be proactive and seek new, different ways to specifically reach teenagers. The survey responses indicated a high level of satisfaction in public library service for teens while focus groups indicated a low level of satisfaction in public library service. Howard did not provide the survey forms, focus group questions, or a code sheet used to analyze focus group responses nor did she provide specific suggestions to improve public library service for teens (Martin 2011)

Rothbauer performed a qualitative study on the role of reading and libraries in teenagers in a small town in rural Ontario, Canada – mainly focusing on reluctant, or ‘non-active’ readers and the ‘placelessness of reading.’ She collected data through in-depth, loose interviews with 27 diverse teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 years old, coupled with observations and environmental scanning. Post-interviews, Rothbauer concluded that 56% of teens participating identified themselves as readers while 44% saw themselves as non-readers or light readers though no definition or further explanation was given for any of the terms.

Interview questions were tailored to each student, according to how much or how little they read, allowing interviewers to use responsive questioning while face-to-face. All interviews were recorded and transcribed. There were an equal number of boys and girls participating in the study, obtained by using purposive sampling and multiple locations such as schools, post offices, recreational sites such as parks, and other locations to enlist teens as participants. Permissions were given from the teens’ parents or guardians but no data such as income or education level was collected from the parents. Teens were given $20 gift cards for participating.

Rothbauer stressed the importance of cultural geographic locale in her, or any study. For hers, it was important to note that school libraries were the primary libraries available for most teens in similar rural areas due to lack of public library service. Rothbauer attempted to focus on the reading habits of teens’ perceptions and experiences with both print and technology culture within the framework of cultural geography. She sought to examine teens’ voluntary reading habits, public library use patterns, bookstore visits, and Internet use. She began collecting data after an extensive literature review and ethics approval by her university review board. She makes a general conclusion regarding the importance of the library to “foster a lively and engaged reading culture for youth” (Rothbauer 2009). Although her study drew interesting feedback and discussion from the youth interviewed about the topics at hand, there was no specific figures or data collected, to draw any general or overall conclusions.

As seen, there is a variety of research and articles on teenage reluctant readers but they are not focused in the United States, or California, and the results or conclusions vary. There are many books on providing library services for teens, developing and implementing programs for teenagers, especially at-risk teens, and building core collections for teens but not specifically addressing reluctant readers, or evaluating services for reluctant teen readers. YALSA,, and other groups/websites help fill in the gaps though.


Statement of Research Problem


Literacy is an important issue. According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, readership among youth drops rapidly once they enter their teenage years due to a variety of factors. Public libraries and schools exist to promote literacy, lifelong learning and access to information. A study of teenage reluctant readers and how to best approach the group can be helpful to outlining


Purpose of Research


To help uncover reading habits of teenagers and address issues facing teenage reluctant readers today as well as public libraries in a time of rapid changes. To identify possible solutions to both promote and increase readership among teenagers in California.


Significance of Research


To draw a conclusion regarding teenagers and readership, and solve issues affecting teenage reluctant readers by addressing effectiveness

I will attempt to study and understand reluctant readers, assess and identify their current needs, and suggest other ways of meeting their needs with high quality library services. I will supplement my research by providing evidence, information, and cases from secondary sources found in my research.



Description of Proposed Research/Research Design


  • Identity and execute a method to target teenage reluctant/nonreaders at schools
  • Create and distribute a survey, with permission forms from the school and participants’ parents
  • Follow up with select or random sample of participants’ post-survey, to discuss their reading habits, issues affecting their reading habits, choice of reading material, library services, accessibility, etc.


To understand the scope and nature of the issues, I will design a large-scale survey. The survey will be sent to select number of public middle schools and public library branches in Southern California. The aim is to receive 80% of surveys filled out and returned. If success rate is less than that, adjustments will be made or more surveys sent out to other similarly populated areas. Of the surveys returned, a random sample of willing respondents will be pulled for follow up interviews.


Factors to be considered during the selection process:

Personal survey/ data of reluctant readers and their parents

Age, gender, interests, reading materials, grade/reading level

Use of the public library, school library, or local book stores

Ease of access of local public libraries, school libraries, or local book stores

Attendance/ use of programming at public libraries

Background (parents’ reading habits, education level, time spent reading with their children, etc. can affect their children)

Collections available (‘guy-friendly’ materials, graphic novels, video games or games)






Varies, depending on grants and funding available.






Alvermann, D. E. (2005). Literacy on the Edge: How Close Are We to Closing the Literacy Achievement Gap?. Voices From The Middle, 13(1), 8-14.


Crawford, P. (2004). A Novel Approach: Using Graphic Novels to Attract Reluctant Readers and Promote Literacy. Library Media Connection, 22(5), 26-28.


Horton, R. (2005). boys are people too: boys and reading, truth and misconceptions. Teacher Librarian, 33(2), 30-32.


Mackey, M., & Johnston, I. (1996). The Book Resisters: Ways of Approaching Reluctant Teenage Readers. School Libraries Worldwide, 2(1), 25-38.


Martin, J. j. (2012). Teenagers’ Public Library Needs are Difficult to Determine. Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, 7(1), 108-109



Nes Ferrara, S. L. (2005). Reading Fluency and Self‐Efficacy: A case study. International Journal Of Disability, Development & Education, 52(3), 215-231. doi:10.1080/10349120500252858




Royce, J. (1997). Surviving Information Overload: Lessons from the Reading Reluctance Research. School Libraries Worldwide, 3(1), 39-46.


Schneider, E. e. (2014). A Survey of Graphic Novel Collection and Use in American Public Libraries. Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, 9(3), 68-79.


Snowball, Clare. (2005). Teenage Reluctant Readers and Graphic Novels. Young Adult Library Services. 43-45.


Strommen, L. T., & Mates, B. F. (2004). Learning to love reading: Interviews with older children and teens. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(3), 188-200. doi:1O.1598/JAAL.48.3.1


Tomblinson, Amy. (2004) “Reluctant Readers and The Power of Real Reading.” Language Arts Journal of Michigan: Vol. 20: Iss. 2, Article 5.



[2] YALSA blog:

[3] Page 11,

[4] “The Minecraft Craze at the Library.” Public Libraries Association:

[5]Santa Barbara Public Library

[6] Siblings Project Summary: