Ask a Librarian: Reader trends across the country
From Aussie crime fiction to YA graphic novels, librarians share the trends and appetites they are seeing in readers across the country.
Meredith Erbacher, Librarian, Libraries Tasmania
Clearly, the outback noir genre is hot, hot, hot currently thanks largely to Jane Harper and now others like Maryrose Cuskelly, Hayley Scrivenor, Shelley Burr etc. Encountering recognisable character types in familiar local settings seems to strongly appeal to Australian lovers of crime fiction.
Tasmanian authors are, unsurprisingly, very popular with our clients so recently Katie McMahon, Meg Bignell, Heather Rose, and Amanda Lohrey have trended.
There’s a sense that the ever-increasing discourse on books and reading on radio, social media and television is shaping an informed and discerning audience. The Books That Made Us series on the ABC exemplifies this attention to our local literary landscape and how Australian writing helps us to examine and understand who we are, the histories that shaped us and our possible future.
The increasing number of young female writers like Diana Reid, Tara June Winch, Jessica Au and Jennifer Down whose works are receiving recognition and winning awards is a welcome evolution in the Australian literary landscape. Although their work appeals to a diverse audience, their engagement of a younger readership is especially encouraging.
Siobhan Dennis, Acquisitions Librarian, Vision Australia Library
The Vision Australia Library has a borrower base where the majority sit in an older age demographic, and although there is a very broad range of category interests, generally speaking they do tend to divide across more traditionally gendered lines in their reading interests. There is a marked exception to this rule in the fantasy, crime and mystery genres, where everyone seems happy to read both male and female authors.
However, one smaller trend that I am really encouraged to see starting to filter through is an interest in women’s fiction and memoir from male library members, which is not something I have seen regularly in previous years. In the last few months I’ve had male readers request memoirs by Myf Warhurst, Hannah Gadsby, Grace Tame, and Megan Norris, and fiction by Kate Quinn, Sarah Winman, Sophie Green and Maggie O’Farrell. In our young adult readers, fantasy is always popular, but I am seeing a smaller trend towards that mixing with LGBTQ+ themes such as The Extraordinaries series by TJ Klune and The Aurora Cycle by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.
Vicki Simmonds, Coordinator Library Customer Service, and Ariana Kirk, Customer Service Representative, Adelaide City Libraries
‘Eco-fiction’ or dystopian/crossed with disaster seems to be popular at the moment, particularly with many people hearing conversations or political opinions on the environment and climate change. Books such as Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy and Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar are a couple that come to mind by Australian authors, as well as Maja Lunde and Michael Christie internationally. In Australia, many readers are really trying to listen to the voices of our First Nations people and are doing this by reading more books by these authors – with books such as Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson and The Yield by Tara June Winch being two that we have frequently seen on the holds shelf in our library.
Karys McEwen, Library Manager, Prahran High School
My teenage patrons are very discerning about what they read, and more than ever, they know exactly what they want. They often come to me with a curated list of books they’re looking for based on what they’ve seen recommended online or by their peers. I respect their tenacity! At the moment, they’re really passionate about representation and diversity, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. They’re especially looking for books that explore gender and sexuality from different perspectives. They love graphic novels, and I urge Australian publishers to push out more of these for a young audience. The kids can’t get enough! They’re also really into genre fiction, especially horror and romance. For a while they seemed to be leaning into dystopias and climate change narratives, but I see a move away from this and into more of a need for escapism. Maybe the real world is tough enough at the moment!
Tania Schafer, Librarian – Collection Engagement, Queensland Memory | Content and Client Services, State Library of Queensland
I have been an identified Aboriginal librarian since 2005, in a Queensland Historical library. My viewing of literature trends in Australian libraries is not commonplace, as my clientele are researchers, rather than recreational readers, which have influenced me into the non-fiction genre.
These researchers are attempting to discover new avenues to Indigenous history, such as Timothy Bottom’s Conspiracy of Silence, Dr Ray Kerkhove’s Aboriginal Camp Sites of Greater Brisbane, Rosalind Kidd’s The Way We Civilise, Michael Aird’s Brisbane Black, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and Judy Watson’s A Preponderance of Aboriginal Blood; or they are Indigenous clients who have journeyed long distances to view published books, photographs, rare books, artwork, maps, personal diaries, community newsletters, and newspapers as a means to find information on their topic of interest, that is not accessible from their local libraries.
Thus, the trends I am seeing in my work environment involves the first steps of inclusion of Indigenous people’s clients, literature, and cultural needs, into the library core business activities. This is performed through online platforms, digitising Indigenous collections, Indigenous people donations, exhibitions, networking, working in providing Indigenous identifiers in the library catalogue, and an increase in Indigenous white-glove workshops to demonstrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections.
So rather than present my opinion, I would love to gain readers’ opinion by inviting them to become a ‘Guest Blogger’ and tell the State Library of Queensland what Indigenous books they had found of interest and why.
Connor Borchard-Burns, Library Officer, Yarra Libraries
I have definitely been noticing a trend in readers devouring crime. This isn’t new by any means – crime novels have always been popular – but with the likes of Jane Harper, Katherine Kovacic, Pamela Hart and so many more, we have so many patrons picking up mysteries and crime thrillers by the dozens.
I have also seen a real increase in interest in the messy stories of young women. We’ve always had an insight into the minds of young men; their worries and exploits have been well documented. However, there’s been a burst of novels about women (and non-binary folks!) in their 20s and 30s, centred around the malaise of finding oneself in an increasingly capitalist, burning world. Some notable titles that have really resonated with me, and our patrons, are Genevieve Novak’s No Hard Feelings (this one made me sob), Paige Clark’s She Is Haunted, and of course, anything from Sally Rooney.
Catherine Clark, Chief Executive Officer and State Librarian, State Library of Western Australia
Libraries are some of our oldest public institutions and are constantly changing to remain relevant to their original purpose: to collect, store and make information freely accessible. How people access books has changed and we know that the ability to access books in multiple formats has been widely welcomed. I’m delighted that libraries are facilitating access to electronic books and to audio books. These different formats mean that accessibility is broader than ever and we certainly know that there is continued high demand for good stories, whether fiction or non-fiction.
One of the benefits of digital formats is that they can be accessed from anywhere at any time and this became critical during COVID when people were in lockdown or reluctant to use public spaces. Libraries do, of course, also understand the continued appeal of a paper book and it’s interesting to see that the joy of reading a paper book applies to all ages. BookTok on TikTok is one of the recent ways that people are sharing their book reviews – a new take on the time-old tradition of talking about books.
Mysteries, crime and romance are still very popular but so are science fiction and biographies, and Australian authors have never been more well read or diverse in their writers and stories. While new titles are popular, there is still demand for the classics – the ‘Untapped’ project has recently seen 161 out-of-print Australian books republished, initially in digital format and a selection more recently in print. The popularity of these titles has demonstrated the appetite for Australian stories, which I am delighted about.
Jane Cowell, CEO, Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (YPRL)
In terms of trends here at YPRL we are seeing crime fiction – particularly Australian crime fiction – dominating our fiction loans and requests. In non-fiction, biographies of personalities such as Grace Tame and Eddie Betts are both in the top three requests for our collection. Mindfulness, financial literacy and investments, and topics on bringing meaning back into your life and work are also strong themes after the pandemic. We are seeing a shift away from ‘celebrity chef’-type cookbooks, with our members borrowing more practical, time-saving cookbooks, and a definitive lean towards Australian titles. Our eAudio collections continue to increase in popularity across fiction and non-fiction and we struggle to meet demand. People are really loving to be read to while they do something else.