Is Reading Doomed?

Educator Michael Skube pushes the familiar complaint that “kids don’t read for pleasure” any more – Writing Off Reading in today’s Washington Post (via TeleRead). While characteristically anecdotal, articles like these frankly scare me.
David Rothman ties this in to his plea to libraries not to divert book acquisition budgets to video in a major way, and I’m sympathetic to his argument. As a parent of two young boys, I really worry about the precipitous decline in pleasure reading after age 8 that has been documented as largely a boy issue.
But I’m not sure what the real picture is. I’m just guessing that a drop off in reading (and other solo entertainments) as kids get older and take on more independence and do more social activities (including video watching) is not an entirely new phenomenon. So does the U.S. really have fewer readers than in the past? Are there really lower levels of advanced literacy, or is our much higher percentage of college attendance skewing the historical perspective? In the 65 years since 1940 the U.S. has gone from less than 10% of the population having some college education to over 50% – by definition college students are no longer an “elite”. And it’s arguable that all the IM’ing and MySpace’ing is increasing literacy among students, vs. the hours-long phone calls of recent generations. Is the increase in video lending by libraries coming at the expense of book circulations, or are they primarily just a tax-subsidized alternative to Blockbuster, which in turn is competing with movie theaters, not reading? Hard data on these points appears to be scarce.
My oldest son recently turned 9 so after all these posts I had to run and check his room. J.R.R. Tolkien, Brian Jacques, and Cornelia Funke may not be Booker Prize winners but I was frankly relieved to see their works strewn out on his bed. It’s equally anecdotal but as long as he and his friends keep reading for pleasure – and well above any preconceived notion of “grade level” – I can’t help but remain somewhat positive about the future of reading. And while digital texts may not change the fundamental options competing for Jackson’s time (and I feel a bit guilty for having watched Raiders of the Lost Ark with him last night), they might at least help keep his bedroom a bit neater…