Books remain favourites

Besides Internet forums, libraries are the main places where readers can meet up. Source: RIA Novosti / Taras Litvinenko

Besides Internet forums, libraries are the main places where readers can meet up. Source: RIA Novosti / Taras Litvinenko

While reading remains a favoured pastime and there is little to rival the feel of turning a page of the printed book, which remains the most popular reading tool across Russia, the use of e-(electronic) books is rising. Figures indicate that fewer readers are visiting libraries, as a result of which the libraries are getting a makeover, and diversifying their activities to retain old readers and attract ones.

Most readers across Russia still prefer to read the printed book. While the use of electronic books is slowly increasing, according to a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation this year, most Russians continue to favour printed books. 49 percent enjoy reading the printed word, as opposed to 9 percent who prefer to use e-books. The survey however, is based on those who read at least once a month. The more telling statistic is that 37 percent of those surveyed said they did not read books at all. 

Unchanged readership levels

29-year-old Anna Yudina loves to read and always buys books, even though she lacks the space to store them in her apartment. “I really love going to bookstores or just rummaging through bookstands on the streets,” she says. “I guess it’s the best way to relax. I then have to take them to my grandmother’s, because my rented apartment is too small to keep them.” Despite her passion for printed books, she is increasingly being forced to download more and more electronic books because they are convenient to take along on her business trips. Vadim Mescheryakov, the director of the Mescheryakov Publishing House, said the percentage of people who read books has not changed for several generations. “Some of these people buy electronic books, but this does not prevent them from reading printed ones,” said Mescheryakov. According to the publisher, readers today are characterised by their solidarity.

“People who read books exchange opinions and buy after a careful selection process. They have become better connoisseurs of literature. Literary tastes are formed in childhood and are unrelated to trends. If parents have good taste, they'll pass it down to their children. Hence, a new generation of readers is formed and the percentage holds steady. It is also interesting that it is usually individuals on average and below average salaries who buy and read books, rather than wealthier members of society.”

According to Mescheryakov, the number of readers is not affected by new trends appearing in Russian cities, such as BookCrossing or Books in the Parks, where mini-libraries are set up outside. “If a book is well promoted and someone buys it, that doesn’t mean they will go on to read regularly. If someone reads a trash novel, they won’t move on to Dostoevsky.”

Mescheryakov believes that people are buying less books now than in the 1990s. “The prices are far higher these days,” he notes. “Russia has never had a particularly large reading public in relation to other countries. You will that find bookstores in Germany or France are far busier than in Russia, for example.”

Mescheryakov feels that bookstores should be supported through subsidies in order to change the situation for the better. The development of book networks will help readers get together in person rather than purely on the Internet.

Innovating libraries

Besides Internet forums, libraries are the main places where readers can meet up. According to the Public Opinion Foundation’s survey, the number of people visiting libraries has dropped slightly over the last few years, but Lilia Bagrova, the head of the Nekrasov Library, believes that there is actually growing interest in them.

“People are coming to us for information,” she says. “Because of the fragmentation of the information space into specializations, everyone is interested in knowledge integration, and librarians have become guides in the world of knowledge.” According to Bagrova, the Nekrasov Library now serves 9,400 readers annually, up from five to six thousand.

Many Moscow libraries are organizing events to attract readers. “Our library has the advantage of being in an exceptional building, so many people come to see that and then browse the books afterwards,” says Bagrova. “We have a club for book-lovers that meets at the library and one for movie fans. We organize joint events with schools, such as photography and other kinds of exhibitions. There are also approaches that are completely new to us, such as co-working and library tourism, where we take people around the library’s collections and explain its history.”

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