State Efforts to Promote Reading and Literary Activities in Communities

Policies and programs that support reading can help create a culture of reading and community action. By promoting literary reading, states can help build vibrant communities and compete in the new economy.


Executive Summary

Rates of reading in the United States have been declining for at least two decades, and the steepest decline is among young adults. Fewer than half of adults read literature—poetry, plays, short stories, or novels—in their leisure time, according to a comprehensive survey by the National Endowment for the Arts. At the current rate of decline, literary reading will virtually disappear in the next half century. Few would dispute the importance of reading for children; yet we do not emphasize the importance of literary reading in adulthood.

Reading and literary activities are important to states for two primary reasons. Strong reading habits enhance skills required in the 21st-century workplace, such as high literacy and analytical thinking. An increasingly competitive economy demands a highly literate workforce, and according to many sources, the U.S. workforce is not prepared. In addition, literary readers have been shown to be more likely than nonreaders to pursue social and civic activities such as volunteering and attending sporting events. Therefore, literary reading may enhance community life and civic engagement.

Recognizing the benefits of adult reading, many state cultural agencies, governors, and governors’ spouses have been actively promoting reading and literary activities for communities and individuals. By leading statewide reading initiatives, governors can promote a culture of readers, interest in literature, and understanding of the importance of lifelong learning. Offices of tourism, workforce development departments, state library systems, departments of education and human services, and state arts agencies and humanities councils can be vehicles in every state for advancing literary reading.

States can take three major approaches to promoting reading and literary activities.

  • Develop the literary infrastructure in the state through networks, partnerships, state agency collaboration, state libraries, literary organizations, publications, and individual artist programs. State funding and governors’ convening power can enable these activities.
  • Use the state’s literary assets to boost interest in local literature by recognizing and promoting native and local authors through awards, publications, broadcasts, and readings. Governors can personally recognize writers, launch publications, and encourage citizens to read.
  • Engage communities in literary activities by offering book clubs, film series, and family reading programs at libraries, workplaces, and other community centers. State library systems, arts and humanities councils, and employers can facilitate and fund discussions and other activities.