When was the last time you stepped foot in a library? Do you even know where your local library is? I do, but it is quite possibly just because it’s next to the train station and I walk past it every day. According to the survey results of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa), in the period from 2009 to 2014 (the last period for which data was publicly available) the number of visits to a public library fell by 12.4%. The decrease is mainly due to fewer adults visiting them, as the number of adults visiting a library fell by 10.2%.
According to Reading Agency, in England 31% of adults do not read in their free time, rising to 46% of young people aged 16 to 24. While visits to the public library are down and the amount of reading has decreased dramatically in recent years, adults are still reading and surprisingly the most popular books are feminist. That is not surprising when we look at the statistics of who is reading. According to the Washington Post, women read more than men, 19.8 minutes per day compared to 13.2 minutes.
As a city, London is a literary lover’s dream, from the leafy green walks in outdoor parks to the Instagram-worthy restaurants and wonderful buildings. It is no wonder that as a city we are reading more; some of the greatest novels were set in London. Whether it is Dickens poverty-stricken Oliver Twist or the hedonistic spectacle of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’, literature is at the heart of the city.
With reading at the heart of the city, what London is reading can show what people’s opinions are and how it affects the reading statistics.
Thanks to the statistics on the top 20 most borrowed books and authors from London’s public libraries from 2017-18, we have been given a rare insight into the minds of readers across London and it turns out that our reading habits are a lot more feminist than you might suspect.
Apart from the huge amount of children’s literature which dominates the lists, with the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series appearing eight out of twenty times, and London’s obsession with borrowing the driving test manual The Highway Code, which appears at number two on the list, three out of the four most popular non-children’s books are all written by female authors.
The top fiction book borrowed from public libraries is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. The story is set in a dystopian world where fertile women are enslaved to bear children for the wealthy classes and follows the character Offred as she navigates the reality of life under a totalitarian state.
‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith came in eighth on the list, delivering a powerful social commentary through its intricate story of female friendship, failure and growing up.
Coming in at number 11, Naomi Alderman sits a mere seven spaces below her literary mentor, Margaret Atwood, with ‘The Power’. This novel’s speculative take on a future where women develop a supernatural and life-changing power explores what would happen if women ruled the world. The result is a terrifying and often horrific look at how power can change the way we behave.
While there is a shift from physical to digital reading, pulling people away from public libraries and small bookshops, the literature provided can entice anyone to just stop and read, more than just ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ and the Highway Code manual.