Published on 01/05/2024
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  • Reading Habits in the COVID-19 Pandemic analyses the results of the Lockdown Library Project survey
  • It provides a unique insight into the ways in which the first UK COVID-19 lockdown affected public reading habits
  • Experts found reading served as a source of comfort, security and distraction from reality.

Researchers from Aston University have released a book that explores the impact of the pandemic lockdowns on reading habits.

Reading Habits in the COVID-19 Pandemic presents and analyses the results of a comprehensive survey that captured how people engaged with literature during the first UK COVID-19 lockdown.

The team of experts from the University’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities consisted of Dr Abigail Boucher (lecturer in English literature), Dr Marcello Giovanelli (reader in literary linguistics), Dr Chloe Harrison (senior lecturer in English language and literature), Dr Robbie Love (lecturer in English language) and Caroline Godfrey (researcher in applied linguistics).

The survey generated a large body of responses totalling about 100,000 words, which were analysed using different methods to provide a comprehensive overview of the impact of the pandemic on people’s reading habits, experiences and genre preferences during this time..

The book starts by introducing the Lockdown Library Project, detailing its research methods, design and key findings. It then analyses how the first UK lockdown affected reading behaviour, covering changes in reading frequency, methods of accessing books, discussions about reading, reading as a coping strategy and the trend of revisiting familiar books for comfort or nostalgia.

Additionally, it explores how different literature genres, especially popular fiction, influenced the reading experience during a crisis, offering valuable insights for both academics and practitioners in education and library services, as well as those in marketing, publishing and creative industries, and various healthcare groups—in particular practitioners who deal with mental healthcare and bibliotherapy.

Dr Marcello Giovanelli, head of English, Languages and Applied Linguistics (ELAL) at Aston University, said:

“This book offers a unique lens into the intricate relationship between reading literature and societal shifts during unprecedented times.

“Our findings not only shed light on individual reading behaviours but also contribute to broader discussions in fields such as literary studies, health humanities and education.”

“We hope that this book will appeal to a wide audience, including academics in literary and genre studies, applied linguistics, corpus linguistics, stylistics, health humanities and sociology. Additionally, we think that practitioners in education, bibliotherapy and library services will find valuable insights to inform their work.”

Dr Chloe Harrison said:

“Our work focused on how participants revealed the use of reading as a coping strategy during the first lockdown.

“We identified themes indicating that reading served as a source of security and distraction from reality. Revisiting familiar and nostalgic stories provided comfort while also offering an escape from the present situation.”

“Overall, our research highlights the significant role that re-reading plays in helping individuals cope during times of crisis, offering insights into the emotional and psychological benefits of this practice.”

You can purchase a copy of Reading Habits in the COVID-19 Pandemic here.

Notes to Editors

About the authors

Abigail Boucher is a lecturer in English literature at Aston University. She specialises in genre and popular fiction of the long nineteenth century, with interests in the body, class and medicine and science in literature.

Marcello Giovanelli is a reader in literary linguistics at Aston University. His research is in the area of stylistics and specifically in cognitive and empirical approaches to reading literature within different contexts.

Chloe Harrison is a senior lecturer in English language and literature at Aston University. Her research explores cognitive stylistics, reader response studies and contemporary fiction.

Robbie Love is a lecturer in English language at Aston University. He is a corpus linguist, specialising in contemporary spoken discourse and advocates for the application of corpus approaches to address societal challenges.

Caroline Godfrey is a researcher in applied linguistics at Aston University. Her work concentrates on the language used to conceptualise English education in the UK, with a particular focus on the use of metaphor.

About Aston University

For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.

Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Sam Cook, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44) 7446 910063 or email: s.cook2@aston.ac.uk

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