snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Diversions > Book Corner

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:17 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,289
Default Average numbers of books owned by people

I read a BBC article recently about a study of reading habits, and was surprised by the figures for the average numbers of books owned by people:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26515836

Quote:
It adds that adults from the highest socio-economic background own twice as many books on average as those from the lowest backgrounds (376 compared with 156).

...

More than half own at least 50 books, with an adult owning around 200 on average, the report added.
Those seem rather high numbers to me... I also read somewhere (at least partly a joke) that the "average" (modal) household in the USA owned three books - a Bible, a telephone directory and a Sears catalogue. OK, it's a joke but presumably it was the sort of joke that had an element of truth to it at the time.

Is the UK that different from the USA? Is the study distorting the figures? It doesn't say how the data was collected in that article (it was a survey of 1,500 adults) but possibly people responding to a survey about books would be more likely to be people who read a lot. I'm surprised that even in the UK, the average number of books owned would be as many as 200.

If we try to work it out based on our own libraries I expect we'd come up with a much larger number than that, but posters here are probably not representative. I've not counted for a while, but I think I've got about 900 at the moment. Plus or minus a hundred? Not a very good estimate...

For what it's worth I don't think the study in the story really makes much of a point about the supposed "division" but they have to try to make it interesting somehow. "Dull study reveals not much: Figures 'about what you'd expect' say experts" isn't going to get people to read it... if anything it seemed rather encouraging about reading habits. It was the figure for number of books owned that struck me, though. What do people think?
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:27 PM
Alarm's Avatar
Alarm Alarm is offline
 
Join Date: 26 May 2011
Location: Nepean, ON
Posts: 5,717
Default

Those numbers do seem high unless they are counting comic books.

I've got 4-5 bookshelves filled with books and I'm not sure I have 200 books, although I may be close.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not average, because I own the most books of pretty much anyone I routinely interact with and I rarely sell my books off.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:33 PM
quink quink is offline
 
Join Date: 22 June 2005
Location: Calgary, AB
Posts: 3,193
Default

I think I'd fall somewhere around the 200 range, and that's after dropping off about 50 in a recent move. Our books take up two big bookshelves, and there's not a lot of room beyond that. I'm starting to do more ebooks and I'm hoping to get back into using the library, so that cuts down on owned physical copies too.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:36 PM
Lainie's Avatar
Lainie Lainie is offline
 
Join Date: 29 August 2005
Location: Suburban Columbus, OH
Posts: 74,479
Default

I am an avid reader but I own few books. I would caution putting too much emphasis on an positive correlation between book-reading and book-owning.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:42 PM
Spam & Cookies-mmm's Avatar
Spam & Cookies-mmm Spam & Cookies-mmm is offline
 
Join Date: 09 July 2002
Location: Northwest Florida
Posts: 12,864
Jaded

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
at least partly a joke
Oh, at least.

I have never counted my books, so I don't know how many I have. From the time the kids were small, we would spend Friday nights at the bookstore, buying new ones every week.

When I was a kid, we had three, floor-to-ceiling bookcases that were about 4 foot wide and had 6 shelves each, and every shelf was filled with books. In addition to those, we had at least three 4' wide shelves in each bedroom that were filled with books, and more books on end tables, coffee tables, and the back of the toilet. Nearly all of my friends had their own bookcase in their bedrooms, filled with children's books, and their parents had books too.

I only remember one friend who had what I considered "no books". She had a few teen romance novels in her bedroom, but in the whole house, there was no place set aside for book storage. The only bookcase was filled with knicknacks. It was very sad.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:44 PM
Seaboe Muffinchucker's Avatar
Seaboe Muffinchucker Seaboe Muffinchucker is offline
 
Join Date: 30 June 2005
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 18,742
Glasses

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alarm View Post
I've got 4-5 bookshelves filled with books and I'm not sure I have 200 books, although I may be close.
You can do a rough estimate by measuring the shelf length, counting the number of shelves and assuming the average paperbook is 1" thick. The average hardback is probably 2" thick. Divide the shelf length by the book thickness, multiply the number of shelves and you have the approximate number of books.

I think people like me skew the results. I have 5-7,000 books. For every person like me you'd need at least 24 people who own no books at all to bring the average books owned down to 200 per person.

Seaboe
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:51 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,289
Default

The actual report is on this page, for what it's worth:

http://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-blogs/news/267

Quote:
We carried out a nationally representative survey of adults in England by telephone; 1,500 interviews were conducted across the regions of England. We took a quota sampling approach to ensure that the sample was representative of the population and allowed for analysis by demographic group (e.g. gender, age, socio-economic group–‘SEG’). All differences by demographics and segment highlighted in this report are statistically significant unless otherwise stated.
So there's no obvious reason why it would exaggerate the number, unless people systematically lie about the number of books they own. It's not like it was a self-selecting internet survey on Bibliophiles United.com or something.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 12 March 2014, 07:57 PM
erwins's Avatar
erwins erwins is online now
 
Join Date: 04 April 2006
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 12,192
Default

I have far far more than 200, but I want to get rid of a bunch. We don't have the shelf space for them, and there are a lot of paperbacks that I will never read again.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 12 March 2014, 08:03 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,289
Default

I wonder if they allowed people time to go and count the books during the survey? It seems unlikely. So the respondents must mostly have been guessing.

I know that - some time ago now - I decided to count my books because I'd been wondering how many I had. If you'd made me guess at that point, I might have gone as high as 1,000. But it turned out to be six or seven hundred, quite a lot fewer than I had guessed.

I wonder if that has an effect? Maybe people aren't deliberately exaggerating, but put on the spot they think they own more than they do.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 12 March 2014, 08:12 PM
Beachlife!'s Avatar
Beachlife! Beachlife! is offline
 
Join Date: 23 June 2001
Location: Lansing, MI
Posts: 28,568
Default

I'm sure I have at least 200 books, but I really couldn't say if the actual number is. At a quick guess I would say it is somewhere between 300 and 400.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 12 March 2014, 08:12 PM
Aud 1 Aud 1 is offline
 
Join Date: 05 October 2005
Location: Missouri
Posts: 7,161
Default

Our LibraryThing says 1,873 but I know that doesn't include kid books, comics, about half the role playing materials or the books in my bedroom. Do I need to divide it by the 5 people in my family or we all own them all?
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 12 March 2014, 08:27 PM
she-geek's Avatar
she-geek she-geek is offline
 
Join Date: 12 April 2009
Location: Rochester, MN
Posts: 588
Default

I'm not convinced that a great deal of rigor went into the gathering and analysis of this research data. I'd also be leery of reading too much (ha!) into the interpretation of the results. In my lifetime I've owned many, many books. However, I make a point every few months to weed out ones that I know I'll never re-read. So, the number of books that I hold onto/presently have is a significantly smaller amount than the number of books I've purchased for myself and read. That's not counting all the books that I've borrowed, read, and returned.

In addition, reading for enjoyment isn't necessarily limited to "books", per se. I didn't see anything in the article indicating that the books in question had to be novels, but there are other media (graphic novels, online fiction, etc.) that one could argue provide an equal amount of reading opportunities and mental exercise. Well-written blogs, articles, etc. can provide just as much food for thought and reading enjoyment as a book.

Also, are the researchers really surprised that people with more disposable income would be more inclined to accumulate a large collection of books than people who are counting every penny?
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 12 March 2014, 08:34 PM
Darth Credence's Avatar
Darth Credence Darth Credence is offline
 
Join Date: 28 October 2005
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Posts: 3,573
Default

This will change radically for me depending on what is counted. After my latest culling of books, I'm down to around 400 physical books. This number will probably remain pretty constant, as I rarely get physical books any more. The only increases will be Stephen King and Discworld, as I have every King book (in hardback if it was available), and reading Discworld's footnotes on a Kindle is a pain in the butt.

Next up, Kindle books. 150 according to Amazon, which doesn't include some downloads from the Gutenberg project. Are those counted? I would say yes, since they are certainly books in the sense that this is asking.

Comic books/graphic novels, and is there a difference? Comic books would add several thousand to my total. If you just say graphic novels, as in a stand alone story originally published as a single volume, it would still be a few hundred. I probably would have counted none of these if I was surveyed.

And, from the study linked by Richard W:
Quote:
Originally Posted by study participant
The fact is, it's 2013 not 1813. We have electricity now so we can buy DVDs and watch television rather than read books. Books are for an older generation, younger people on the whole do not read books
This makes me sad. I don't think it is true, as there seems to be a ridiculously large market for young adult books, but the fact that there are people that feel this way is a bit disheartening.

ETA: she-geek - I agree with you (and Lainie) that number of books owned is not a solid indicator. But the study also asked how often people read, which would account for things like loaned books. Twice as many people from poor backgrounds said they never read compared to people from rich backgrounds.

Last edited by Darth Credence; 12 March 2014 at 08:40 PM. Reason: To address a new comment
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 12 March 2014, 09:20 PM
Bobcat Warrior Bobcat Warrior is offline
 
Join Date: 22 October 2009
Location: South Florida
Posts: 936
Default

500+

Includes hardbacks, paperbacks, professional and reference books for my trade.

I could probably cull it down by 50%, but I've always had this "thing" about books.

The Dinosaur has spoken.

BW
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 12 March 2014, 09:32 PM
Tootsie Plunkette's Avatar
Tootsie Plunkette Tootsie Plunkette is offline
 
Join Date: 26 October 2001
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 10,070
Reading

I put my costume and textile books on LibraryThing, and had to stop when I reached their 200 limit for a free membership. I have since paid for my membership but haven't yet added the remainder of my costume books, nor any of my other non-fiction and fiction books.

Last edited by Tootsie Plunkette; 12 March 2014 at 09:37 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 12 March 2014, 10:20 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,289
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
I think people like me skew the results. I have 5-7,000 books. For every person like me you'd need at least 24 people who own no books at all to bring the average books owned down to 200 per person.
You're probably right. I just counted and (this time) I had more than I thought - 1300, almost exactly.* The distribution is likely to be skewed by a few people who own far more than the "average".

And 50 books doesn't take up as much shelf space as I thought, so probably most people I know would indeed own more books than that.

(*The uncertainty is more over what counts as a book than the number - I was trying not to count anything too pamphletty or yearbookish. It would have been 1302 at the end of the actual count, but if anything I should take off some for probably counting stuff that didn't deserve to be counted. I did unashamedly count books of collected comic strips).
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 13 March 2014, 01:21 AM
Hero_Mike's Avatar
Hero_Mike Hero_Mike is offline
 
 
Join Date: 06 April 2005
Location: Phoenix, AZ & Hamilton, ON
Posts: 7,267
Default

Seaboe - what happens when you move house?

Seriously though - does book ownership relate to age or "mobility"? I already have too much junk so getting a bulky, heavy, and expensive-to-move book collection is not in my near future. I dreaded just moving my textbooks and such every 4 months during university, and I would hate doing it now. I know the OP is from England - do people in the UK not move as often?
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 13 March 2014, 01:42 AM
Beachlife!'s Avatar
Beachlife! Beachlife! is offline
 
Join Date: 23 June 2001
Location: Lansing, MI
Posts: 28,568
Default

I probably underestimate my collection above. As to moving, I have lived in the same house for almost 25 years now. I don't plan on selling the house even if I move somewhere else.

I have helped my two daughters move several times, and I hate moving the books the most. I think if I did ever have to move I would take a hard look at my book collection and get rid of as much as I could. But that would be true of all my possessions.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 13 March 2014, 02:08 AM
erwins's Avatar
erwins erwins is online now
 
Join Date: 04 April 2006
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 12,192
Default

One of the reasons I want to get rid of a bunch of my books is that the last time I moved I never unpacked most of them. I had always thought they were important to me, but now that I haven't had access to them for a while, I realize there are few that I really miss. If I want to read something again for sure, I would keep it, and I would keep many of my reference and textbooks, but I find I don't want shelves and shelves of novels anymore.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 13 March 2014, 02:12 AM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,289
Default

I have no idea whether people in the UK move more or less often than people in the USA, but I've moved twice in the last four years and my books weren't any more of a nuisance than anything else. It takes a while to pack them, and you have to use smallish boxes otherwise they're too heavy, but you have to pack a lot of things anyway and it's not like they don't fit in the van.

I did have to put things in storage while I was living in a smallish rented flat, but I'd have had to have taken a storage unit for most of my furniture and other belongings anyway, even without the books. And the books fit perfectly well in my new flat.

So given the general hassle of moving, I don't think the books really added much hassle to that. My brother regularly moves between countries, and can fit most of his necessary belongings in a couple of suitcases, so he gets rid of most books and other similar things in between moves, but I wouldn't be able to do that anyway...

(eta) I'm the opposite of erwins - I really missed my books while they were in storage. I often wanted to look things up in them, or read one of them again, but couldn't. OK, I probably only missed a few specific ones out of the total number, but since I wouldn't be able to tell which specific books those were going to be in advance, I much prefer to have access to all of them. There are plenty that I've not read for years or decades and might well never read again, but if I got rid of them I'd still regret it. The last time I cleared out any significant number of books was when I was 13 or 14 and got rid of my children's books, and I still kind of regret that...! I've wanted to at least refer to many of those since, if not actually read them.

Last edited by Richard W; 13 March 2014 at 02:19 AM.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
More companies owned by religious groups snopes Business 115 27 July 2013 05:09 AM
Monsanto-owned companies snopes Inboxer Rebellion 0 29 February 2012 06:10 PM
Mail in transit is owned by the Queen Dactyl Legal Affairs 15 14 October 2008 10:06 PM
Deep Discount DVD owned by Scientology AESP_pres Business 4 25 April 2008 05:18 PM
MapQuest is owned by oil companies snopes Business 12 31 March 2008 11:03 PM


All times are GMT. The time now is 10:41 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.