Growing Interest in eBooks Readers by Readers Over 55

Cindy Orr takes a look at how readers over 55 are jumping into to eBooks in her monthly blog post.

A Pew Internet poll shows that different generations in the US use the Internet in different ways. While searching is number one, and health information is second for all ages, after that there is a considerable variation.

When you consider devices, cell phones are tops for every generation, and second place includes computers. Again, though, there is an interesting pattern. As expected, game consoles are much more popular with younger users, but eBook readers and tablets are pretty commonly divided among the generations except those over 75. Younger Boomers, ages 47-56, as a percentage own the highest number of eBook readers and tablets. This survey was conducted by Pew in August and September of last year, so with the boom in sales of readers and tablets at the end of the year, the numbers will have changed.

In Britain, a poll of over-50s done by showed that 95% of them had shopped online, and that the product they bought most was books. The managing director of SilverPoll believes that over-50s could hold the key to the rise of the eBook. Part of the reason may be that older people frequently travel after they retire and have more time, but that’s not the only reason.

Anecdotal evidence shows that one popular reason that older people buy eBook devices is because of the ability to adjust type size. A recent video that went viral shows a 99-year-old woman with glaucoma using the iPad for the first time.

An assistive technology professional recently wrote a blog post about choosing technology for an aging parent having trouble reading. Her mother was an avid library user who at first resisted the technology. Eventually, though, her arthritis made it painful to hold heavy books, so she gave in and asked her daughter for a “Kindle.” Her expert daughter’s answer? The NOOK Wi-Fi, specifically because it would work with library collections from OverDrive.

So will digital reading eventually replace large print? It seems very possible, especially with the coming generation of the elderly, who worked with computers during their careers and are not as intimidated by technology as the current over-75 cohort. But what does this mean for libraries providing eBooks? I have a few ideas:

  • Make sure older patrons understand which devices work with your library collection. To many, “Kindle” is used generically, just as “Kleenex” is used instead of the word tissue. It will never occur to many people that some devices are not compatible with libraries.
  • Buy a few digital reading devices that do work with your collection, and keep them around to show to patrons. Many older people have never heard of this possibility, and seeing and touching is so much better than telling. Consider having a digital reader “petting zoo” program aimed specifically at older patrons
  • Large-type books have always gone out of print quickly, and if their sales drop and publishers stop printing them, your patrons with poor eyes may eventually have no choice but your digital book collection unless they qualify for service from the Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

This will be a fast growing user group because the Baby Boomer generation is huge, and they are now reaching their 60s. Any other suggestions? We love reading your comments!


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