published quarterly by the university of borås, sweden

vol. 27 no. 4, December, 2022

Reading habits of Croatian adult library users during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020

Kornelija Petr Balog, Boris Badurina, Srđan Lukačević, and Dino Radmilović

Introduction. COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and consequent lockdown caused a number of changes in the everyday activities and lives of people globally. This paper looks into the change of reading habits of adult library users in Croatia.
Method. The online survey was administered through social media and mailing lists of Croatian public libraries, but part of the sample was obtained through snowball technique. The research was carried out in the period of February 15th to March 1st, 2021 resulting with the sample of 1.463 adult library users.
Analysis. The results were analysed by the SPSS statistical package utilising descriptive and inferential statistical methods (Chi-square, Spearman's rank-order correlation coefficient).
Results. Results show that almost 50.0% of the sample experienced the change of reading habits (particularly reading books) during the 2020 lockdown and every third respondent believed that they started spending more time reading in 2020. The younger the respondents, the more likely they were to have their reading habits affected by the 2020 lockdown.
Conclusions. The prolonged state of a pandemic requires continuous study of reading habits that keep changing and evolving. Sex and age differences detected in the sample should be taken into account by those who create reading policies or offer services that promote reading.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.47989/irpaper947


Today’s society faces numerous challenges caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 epidemics, the cause of the respiratory disease COVID-19. Taking into account the highly contagious nature of the virus and its variants (the latest being Omicron), the World Health Organisation announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic in March, 2020 (WHO, 2020). At the present moment (February 2022) the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in its COVID-19 country overview reports that at the end of week 38 (week ending 30 September 2022) the overall epidemiological situation in European Union was slightly better than in January 2022, with the number of COVID-19 cases among people aged 65+ years on the slight increase in comparison to previous week. It was positive that the COVID-19 death rate fell by 20% to 3.9% of the pandemic maximum, as part of an eight-week decreasing trend. The number of case rates for Croatia in week 38 was 212 (with Slovenia having the highest number– 1342.7 and Norway the lowest – 17.2). Unfortunately, Croatia was third country when it came to death rate (19.8), with only Latvia (24.8) and Greece (19.9) preceding it. At the same time, there are countries with zero mortality (Iceland and Liechtenstein) (ECDC, 2022), which makes one wonder about the reason for such a high death rate. The data for the number of vaccinated Croatian inhabitants in January 2022 was 57.4% for one dose (ECDC, 2022). In comparison, in the European Union 75.4% of population received one dose, and the the country with the highest number of vaccinated inhabitants in the European Union in September 2022 was Portugal with 94.7% (ECDC, 2022).

After the World Health Organisation proclaimed a pandemic, the vast majority of countries in the world implemented a number of non-pharmaceutical interventions (popularly called ‘lockdown’) such as quarantines, stay-at-home-orders, curfews, and similar. The lockdown measures were intended to prevent the virus from spreading, therefore, humans were supposed to limit their physical contact with other humans or, in other words, to maintain the ‘social distance’. The pandemic and consequent quarantine regulations had a significant impact on people’s daily routines, lifestyles and mental health. The latest studies show that pandemic and consequent lockdowns and other quarantine measures resulted in increased anxiety, depression, stress, self-harm and suicide attempts (Huang & Zhao, 2020; Pfefferbaum and North, 2020; Qiu et al., 2020). In addition, the lockdown and quarantine measures also instigated an increase in domestic violence (Lyons and Brewer, 2021; Usher et al., 2020).

Considering the need for social distance with the outbreak of the pandemic, digital resources became particularly popular all over the world. The increased emphasis on digital library services contributed to the popularity and increase of e-books. In Great Britain, public libraries measured a surge in online lending, registering 3.5 million more e-books loaned by mid-August 2020 (Libraries Connected, 2020). There was a similar situation in Germany: in the period between March to May 2020 German public libraries registered 3.7 million e-book loans, which was considered the highest rise of e-book lending until then. Overall, in 2020 the e-book loans in German public libraries rose 17.7%, audiobooks 29.9%, and e-papers and e-journals 45.5% (Neuer, 2021). OverDrive, the American leading e-book lending platform, experienced checkout increases of over 50% during the early months of the pandemic (OverDrive, 2020). American libraries also registered a rise in e-book loans of 29.2% (Hoffert, 2021). According to the same source, there was also a 13.0% increase in the demand for audiobooks. In Japan, e-books were not commonly used before the pandemic, but during the lockdown academic libraries registered extreme usage of e-materials, for instance, JSTOR had the highest access count growth of 846.0% (Kodama et al., 2021).

Times of crisis often affect people’s lifestyles. They need to change in order to accommodate extraordinary circumstances people find themselves in. One of the latest crises, the pandemic of COVID-19 disease, and in particular, the 2020 lockdown, resulted in changes of people’s interaction with media, especially with reading. Consequently, confinement measures applied during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 resulted in a change of reading activities in at least one part of population.

Reading was obviously one of the popular activities to pass the time during lockdown all over the world. This paper brings results of a study on reading habits of Croatian library users during that period.

Reading during COVID-19

The act of reading usually has two purposes – to learn something new and/or to relax and escape the (harsh) reality. Reading has been defined as a process of thinking, evaluating, judging, imagining, reasoning, and problem-solving (Zintz, 1975). However, it is necessary to distinguish between young children learning how to read and reading as a mature reader. Various disciplines such as psychology, linguistics, computer science, information sciences and many others are interested in the act of reading and define it in slightly different ways. The reading process consists of four steps: perception of words, comprehension of meanings, reaction to ideas, and integration into one’s experience (Zintz, 1975). Contemporary authors emphasise the role of personal experience and they define reading as a sociocultural activity in which readers construct meaning from texts through culture and personal experience (Barton, 2007; Gutierrez, 2008; Perry, 2012). However, although personal experience and cultural norms play an important role, readers cannot create meanings without regard to the author’s intentions (Rosenblatt, 1994). Purcell-Gates et al. (2016) argued that definitions of reading must be further modified since reading is the process that occurs in the context of 'socioculturally constructed literacy practices' (p. 1218), including the values, beliefs, and power relations that characterise those practices, such as those related to language, sex, ethnicity, religion, economics, and geopolitics.

It is therefore fair to conclude that a number of factors affect reading, in particular, leisure reading (Greaney, 1980). Those factors may include age, sex, socio-economic status, other media (such as television or Internet) and availability of reading material (Fernandez-Blanko et al, 2017; Greaney, 1980; Grolig, 2020; Mokhtari et al, 2009; Shah and Armstrong, 2019). In addition, the research on activities performed during longer confinement (e.g., space travel, Antarctica stations, or imprisonment) gives evidence that people turn to reading in such situations (Faletar Tanacković et al, 2021; Kelly and Kanas, 1994; Shurley et al, 1970).

According to various experts such as psychologists and neuroscientists, the COVID-19 pandemic placed humanity in the state of prolonged fear, worry and anxiety – about their lives, losing jobs, obtaining adequate healthcare, etc. (Grady, 2020; Kapur, 2020). Therefore, for some it was extremely difficult to concentrate on reading since their brains were in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode to the threat of the virus (Bhatt, 2020). Difficulty with concentrating on reading and learning was experienced also by schoolchildren and students, particularly due to the school closures (Kaffenberger, 2021; Pettit, 2020).

Coronavirus and the consequent quarantine had a significant impact, both positive and negative, on the book and publishing industry. In a big, book publishing market such as the US, the COVID-19 crisis seemed to have had a positive effect on the publishing sales figures. In 2020 the higher education sector was up 2.3% (and in 2019 it fell by 10.9%), whereas the children’s and young adult sector sales were up by 7.5% (after an increase of only 0.4% in 2019). The e-book format recovered from shrinking percentages of overall sales in the previous years, resulting in an e-book sales increase of 16.5%. Audiobooks, on the other hand, had a spectacular sales growth in 2018 (34.7%), but in 2019 the sales increase dropped to 16.4%. The Corona-crisis impacted the sales figures for audiobooks as well, with the sales increase of 17.3% in 2020 (Guren et al, 2021).

In some small-language countries such as Croatia, for instance, the book and periodical revenues declined by 12.6% in 2020 in comparison to 2019 (Statista, 2021c). Similarly, in Slovenia, newspaper publishing revenues declined by 14.3% and book publishing by 14.6%. It is estimated that it will take Slovenia more than five years to reach 2019 revenue figures (Statista, 2021d). While some countries such as Czechia and Romania experienced mild book-sales decrease (-10.0%) in 2020 (Statista, 2021e), other countries had an even harder situation during the worst time of the crisis (March to May 2020). For instance, Estonia recorded 30% decline of sales, Finland 40%, and Latvia 42.3% (Federation of European Publishers, 2020). Interestingly, Slovakia was one of the small-language countries that in 2020 had almost the same book-publishing revenue as in 2019 (Statista, 2021b). Also, many planned new titles were postponed – in Bulgaria, for instance, there was a 10%-20% drop of new titles publishing in 2020, and in the Czech Republic, 15% (Federation of European Publishers, 2020). Another piece of research, conducted among publishers in Slovakia, Iceland, Lithuania and Slovenia in 2020, came to similar findings: COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in decreased sales of printed books in all four countries but those markets also recorded a slight increase of e-books and audiobooks sales (Kovač and Gudinavičius, 2020). On the other hand, some other small-language countries such as Sweden, Norway or Denmark recorded an increase in book publishing revenues. Swedish book publishers recorded the consistent rise of book sales, with 2021 being the most successful since 2009. The same applies for e-book revenues. Interestingly, in Denmark, the book revenues are on the rise although the number of new book titles (both fiction and non-fiction) in 2020 were fewer than in 2019 or 2018. In addition, in 2020 Norway recorded the highest revenue of audio-books since 2009 (Statista, 2021a).

The available data show that during the time of containment due to coronavirus pandemic in 2020 the in-home media consumption among internet users increased throughout the world (Statista, 2020a). The highest increase worldwide was recorded for watching news coverage (67.0%) and shows or films on streaming services (such as Netflix) (51.0%), but the increase was also recorded for reading more books (or listening to more audiobooks) (35.0%), reading more magazines (16.0%) or reading more newspapers (14.0%) (Statista, 2020a).

Even though reading (in comparison to other media) was not at the top of the list of activities for many people throughout the world, reading did increase during the period of lockdown. According to research, people worldwide spent more time reading than they did before. For example, Statista (2020a) gives evidence that the highest increase in reading books or listening to audiobooks was recorded in China (44.0%) and Spain (42.0%), the highest increase in reading more magazines was found in Singapore (29.0%) and South Africa (24.0%), and the highest increase in reading newspapers in Italy (18.0%) and China (17.0%). Studies from USA (Parikh et al, 2020; Statista, 2021c) and Canada (Hirchberg, 2020) give evidence about the increase in reading during 2020, as well. In Canada, 58.0% of respondents read more during the lockdown, but interestingly, the participants of that survey read more printed than e-books. In Nigeria there was an increase in time spent in reading: before the lockdown 83.5% of Nigerians read 1-2 hours per day, during the lockdown 39.2% read between 3-4 hours, and an additional 21.9% read 5-7 hours per day (Adeyemi, 2021). British researchers (Boucher et al., 2020) found that the time spent reading during the lockdown was greater, but the volume of material read was less. According to the authors, people spent more time reading seeking escape, but they were unable to concentrate and therefore made less progress. The pandemic and lockdown also affected the type of reading material – in the early part of the pandemic people chose reading material about isolation, and sought out disease-themed books (and films). But they soon tired out of those topics and found solace in thrillers and detective stories or simply re-read favourite titles or literary classics.

Context of the study

Croatian library response to epidemiological measures

The first epidemiological measures in Croatia were made on March 19, 2020 by the Headquarters of the Civil Protection of the Republic of Croatia (2020). According to those measures, institutions such as libraries, museums, galleries, antique shops and bookstores had to stop all their activities for 30 days. However, many of those institutions, libraries in particular, very soon found ways to deliver their services to their patrons by the help of information and communication technology (Cej et al, 2021). During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 Croatian public libraries offered a number of digital services– some services were ‘old’ (such as online library catalogues) and some were newly introduced. For instance, many public libraries organised virtual workshops (for adults and/or children), quizzes and competitions of various types and some public libraries introduced the e-book loan possibility for the first time during that period. The others offered library membership to newcomers by filling out an online library form (something that was, prior to lockdown, always done only on the premises). Libraries became more active on social media as well. The majority of Croatian public libraries have their profiles on Facebook and the number of their announcements during lockdown intensified considerably (Mašina Delija and Holcer, 2021). Croatian public libraries also care for socially vulnerable user groups in their communities and introduced services that helped reduce their isolation, particularly during the lockdown (one of the particularly useful services was the book delivery to the user's doorstep) (Lukačević et al, 2021).

The same as libraries all over the world, Croatian libraries also registered a significant increase of e-book loans following the COVID-19 outbreak. The biggest public library network in Croatia, Zagreb City Libraries, is also most experienced with e-book loans (they introduced this service in May 2019). During the lockdown in 2020 the library e-book loans increased by 75.0% in comparison to the average for 2019 (from 40 titles per day to 70) (Semenski et al, 2021). Similar to libraries in Great Britain (Libraries, 2020), some Croatian public libraries also increased the number of their members during the lockdown. Consequently, some public libraries reported about attracting readers from geographically remote areas who became their users just so they could use their e-book collection during that period (Babić et al, 2021).

Reading habits of Croatian citizens

In general, Croatian citizens do not read as much compared to some other nations. According to the latest data from the research conducted on the sample of 1000 respondents (print survey, representative sample according to age, sex and region of Croatia) 49.0% of Croatian citizens read at least one book in 2020 and 45.0% in 2021 (Kvaka, 2021). The available data go back to 2011 and the highest percentages were recorded for years 2011 and 2018 (56.0% each), while the lowest percentage was found in 2019 (42.0%). In 2021 the same research was also conducted on the sample of 800 internet users (online survey), which revealed that 82.0% of respondents read at least one book in 2021.

A female person (52.0% paper survey, 88.0% online survey) with a higher education degree (73.0% paper survey, 87.0% online survey), and with the household income of around 2000 Euro per month (59.0% paper survey, 89.0% online survey) was more likely to have read at least one book in 2020 than other citizens (Kvaka, 2021). This is consistent with a 2016 study that showed that highly-skilled women under 40 are more likely to be frequent readers (to read on a weekly basis or every day) than others (Kotrla Topić, 2020).

According to the available data for Croatia (Kvaka, 2021), the pandemic did not have a significant impact on reading habits of Croatian citizens. A majority (48.0%) read the same number of books as before, whereas 15.0% stated that they read more before the pandemic. However, 21.0% of respondents (online survey) read more during the pandemic than they did before. Those who read more than before mostly read in order to forget the reality and pandemic (45.0%) or to fill-up the day and avoid boredom (40.0%). 16.0% of respondents read in order to fight depression and negative feelings. A certain number of respondents wanted to reduce their time spent online, surfing the internet (16.0%) or social media (12.0%). Those respondents who read less, usually did so due to increased work obligations (32.0%).

Only 9.0% of people who read at least a book in 2021 claimed that they visited libraries more frequently during pandemic than they did before (Kvaka, 2021). This aligns with the official library national statistics about the decrease of book loans in almost all Croatian public libraries in 2020 (Portal, 2021). According to the available data, Croatian library users are usually female citizens in the age group between 18 and 50 (Kotrla Topić, 2020; Kvaka, 2021).

In Croatia, approximately every 4th citizen buys a book every three months, and that has not been changed by the lockdown in 2020. On the other hand, the research showed that Croatian Internet users read a lot and it is therefore not surprising that as many as 62.0% of them bought a book in the previous three months (Kvaka, 2021). When it comes to e-books, 30.0% of online population read them in 2020, but only 24.0% of them actually bought e-books. Every second reader of an e-book was either a university or high-school student (Kvaka, 2021).

As far as genres are concerned, those who read more books during the pandemic usually chose to read thrillers and detective novels (30.0%), science fiction or love novels (20.0%), self-help books (15.0%), historical novels (15.0%) or professional/scientific texts (13.0%). Short-stories (4.0%), poetry or drama were least popular (3.0% each) (Kvaka, 2021). Those findings were consistent with the findings of studies before the pandemic (Kvaka, 2019). In addition, Jelušić and Juric (2012) revealed that adult library users in Croatia get reading tips (for leisure reading) mostly from friends (58.0%), media (TV, newspaper, radio) (49.0%), Internet (46.0%), or librarians (41.0%).

In 2020 and 2021, 23.0% of Croatian citizens bought at least one book in the previous three months. According to the available data, the highest number of book-buying citizens were in 2005 (31.0%), and the lowest in 2013 and 2016 (19.0%) (Kvaka, 2021). However, only 15.0% of respondents increased the house-budget for buying books during the pandemic, for the majority of respondents (68.0%) the house-budget allocated for buying books remained the same as before (Kvaka, 2021). Thus, we see that there is some data about reading of Croatians during the pandemic, the deeper insight into it could be sought to explain if it has changed and in which direction.

The following part brings research findings on reading habits of Croatian adult library users during the 2020 lockdown and the changes in those habits that occurred as a result of a coronavirus disease related confinement.


Looking at our literature review, we have identified some dependencies that we have visualised in Fig. 1. It provides a graphic representation of variables used in the research showing how the main demographic characteristics relate to the media use in public libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graphic representation of variables in the research
Figure 1: Graphic representation of variables in the research

This figure was used to formulate our research questions:

The online survey on reading habits during the outbreak of coronavirus in 2020 was administered mainly through social media and mailing lists of Croatian public libraries, but part of the sample was obtained through snowball technique. The research was carried out in the period of February 15th to March 1st, 2021 resulting with the sample of 2,147 respondents. Since the survey was mainly distributed by librarians through library social media and mailing lists the resulting sample consisted principally of library users. This paper brings findings about the adult library users in the sample (n=1,463) and their reading habits during the 2020 lockdown. Female respondents aged between 36-50 and respondents with higher education are over-represented in our sample making it unrepresentative for the Croatian population in general. On the other hand, the sample may be considered to be partly representative for the population of Croatian public library users at least in respect to sex. According to available statistical data about the public library users in Croatia in 2020, public libraries are mostly used by female users aged between 18-65 (National and University Library Zagreb, 2020). In addition, the structure of our sample is consistent with earlier studies that found that females persons, with a higher education degree are more likely to read books, or even to be frequent readers (Kotrla-Topić, 2020; Kvaka, 2021). Unfortunately, the national library statistics do not contain data about educational level and age of public library users in Croatia. Although it can be argued that the more educated portions of population as well as students and working population are more likely to be public library users, the lack of such library statistical data at the national level makes it impossible to draw any relevant conclusions in that regard.

The online survey consisted of twenty-nine multiple type and open-ended questions on reading habits and interests, preferred reading formats, and perceived influence the pandemic had on their reading habits. Respondents were also asked to mark the difference in their reading habits in 2020 in comparison to 2019, which was pandemic-free.

Table 1 gives data about the sample. The majority of respondents in the sample were aged between 36-50 (47.4%) and 21-35 (28.6%) making up for 76.0% of the whole sample. The least represented age-groups were young adults, aged 15-20 and older adults, aged 65 or over (both 3.6%). Those data are unsurprising since young adults traditionally stop using libraries for a while (only to return when they stop being adolescents) and older adults in Croatia do not use the internet so much and are not so present on social media. Vast majority of the respondents are female (89.3%) with a higher education degree (61.3%) or a secondary school diploma (20.4%). The sex distribution in our sample is in alignment with the available data about the users of Croatian public libraries according to which the majority of library users in Croatia are female (Kotrla Topić, 2020; Kvaka, 2021). The sample is fairly evenly distributed in relation to the population size of their settlement. The highest percentage of respondents (20.9%) live in settlements between 60.001-100.000 inhabitants, followed by settlements between 5.001-20.000 (18.1%), less than 5.000 inhabitants (18.0%) and 20.001-60.000 (17.0%). Respondents living in smaller settlements (up to 100.00 inhabitants) make up 73.8% of the whole sample.

Table 1: Sample characteristics
Sample N (%)
15-20 53 (3.6)
21-35 419 (28.6)
36-50 693 (47.4)
51-65 242 (16.5)
65+ 52 (3.6)
Missing 4 (0.3)
Male 155 (10.6)
Female 1306 (89.3)
Missing 2 (0.1)
Primary school 26 (1.8)
Secondary school 298 (20.4)
Polytechnic 130 (8.9)
Higher education  897 (61.3)
PhD 105 (7.2)
Missing 7 (0.5)
Less than 5.000 263 (18.0)
5.001-20.000 262 (18.1)
20.001-60.000 249 (17.0)
60.001-100.000 306 (20.9)
100.001-300.00 207 (14.1)
>300.000 164 (11.2)
Missing 12 (0.8)

The collected data were analysed by the SPSS Statistics package utilising descriptive and inferential statistical methods. For calculating statistical differences among groups the Chi-squared test was used, and for correlations Spearman's rank-order correlation coefficient was calculated.

Results and discussion

A majority of our respondents describe themselves as avid readers of fiction (N=1099, 75.1%). Only a smaller number of respondents read professional literature (for work or school) (N=152, 10.4%) or shorter texts (either in printed or electronic form) (N=72, 4.9%). In addition, the vast majority of respondents prefer printed books (95.1%) (Table 2). E-books are preferred by only 4.5% of respondents.

However, according to our data, e-books started gaining popularity during the lockdown in 2020 and 16.7% (N=245) of our respondents reported that their interest for e-books increased in that period. Respondents from bigger Croatian communities (such as Zagreb, Rijeka, Split and Osijek), with populations of 100,000 inhabitants and higher, were more likely to be those whose interest for e-books increased during the pandemic (Χ2=13.741, p=0.001).

Those who usually read e-books mostly use PDF (N=23, 32.4%), Kindle format (N=19, 26.8%), Mobi (N=16, 22.5%) or Epub (N=8, 11.3%) formats. Our respondents usually read e-books on e-readers (Kindle) (N=40, 56.3%) or mobile phones (N=10, 14.1%). Using mobile-phones to read e-books is a characteristic of younger respondents, whereas older respondents choose other devices, more age-friendly. Kindle e-readers are most popular among age groups 21-35 (N=10, 52.6%) and 36-50 (N=25, 62.5%). The personal computer is rarely used in the sample, but never by older respondents (over 51 years of age).

Significant sex differences were spotted for reading devices: male respondents use both computers (either PC or laptop) (N=6, 46.2%) and mobile devices (tablet, mobile phone, iPad or e-reader) (N=7, 53.8%) whereas female respondents almost exclusively use mobile devices (N=54, 93.1%) and only 6.9% (N=4) use computers (Χ2=13.525, p=0.000). Small statistically significant difference indicates that male respondents in our sample are more likely to choose e-books than female respondents (Χ2=4.655, p=0.031).

Table 2: Preferred book medium
Medium N (%)
Printed books 1391 (95.1)
E- books 71 (4.9)
Missing 1(0.1)

Table 3 presents types of materials and sources that our respondents read in their free time. Printed books, again, are the most dominant type of reading material in the sample (93.9%). Their only competitor are social media that are positioned at the second place with 71.7%. Our respondents prefer e-medium only when it comes to newspapers or magazines, but when it comes to the professional literature, both electronic and printed form of materials are equally accepted. E-books are least frequently read in the free-time. Interestingly, when asked about the preferred medium, our respondents opted for e-books in only 4.9%, but 24.8% confessed to reading e-books in their free time, similar to earlier findings by Kvaka (2021) among the online population in Croatia who found that 30% of their respondents read e-books. Obviously, a certain number of e-book readers read e-books not out of preference, but possibly because the print option is not available. However, unlike the research from 2021 (Kvaka) that indicated that e-book users are read usually by university or high-school students, in our research the age group 36-50 had the highest number of users with e-book preference (N=40, 5.8%).

Sexes in our sample differ in their preference of types and sources they read in their free time. Female respondents are more likely to read printed books or peruse social media posts whereas male respondents are more likely to read materials in e-form (newspapers and magazines or professional literature), but they are also more likely to read printed newspapers and magazines.

Significant age differences were spotted, as well. The oldest respondents (51+) are more likely to read printed newspapers whereas those aged between 36-50 are more likely to read e-newspapers and e-magazines. This age group shares the same proclivity for e-books as those aged 15-35. And finally, those aged 15-35 are more likely to read social media posts and professional literature in e-form than older respondents in the sample.

Table 3: Free-time reading materials by sex
Medium N(%) Male
Printed books* 1374 (93.9) 137 (88.4) 1235 (94.6)
Social media posts* 1049 (71.7) 94 (60.6) 953 (73.0)
E-newspapers, e-magazines* 871 (59.5) 105 (67.7) 764 (58.5)
Professional literature (printed) 682 (46.6) 70 (45.2) 610 (46.7)
Professional literature (e-form)* 666 (45.5) 84 (54.2) 580 (44.4)
Printed newspapers and magazines* 871 (29.3) 60 (38.7) 367 (28.1)
E-books 363 (24.8) 46 (29.7) 315 (24.1)
*statistically significant difference

Table 4 presents data about the most popular genres in our sample by sex. Similar to earlier research (Kvaka, 2019, 2021) the most popular genre in our sample is thrillers, crime fiction and mysteries (N=732, 50.0%) and the least popular for poetry (N=154, 10.5%), but unlike those earlier findings, our respondents read professional literature to a much higher degree (N=578, 39.5%). Significant differences between male and female genre preferences are marked bold in the table. Female respondents enjoy reading thrillers, crime fiction and mystery novels, contemporary fiction, romance novels and historical fiction, to a significant degree. On the other hand, male respondents are more likely to read professional literature, popular scientific literature, fantasy novels, comics and graphic novels. Age differences were also spotted. Professional literature is mostly preferred by respondents in the age group 21-50; poetry, romance and fantasy by the youngest respondents, aged 15-20; travel books, historical fiction and biographies by respondents aged 51+. Contemporary fiction is mostly read by respondents older than 36 years and it is least preferred by the youngest respondents in the sample (15-20).

Table 4: Genres by sex
Fiction Male
Non-fiction Male
Thrillers, crime fiction and mystery* 57 (37.0) 675 (52.1) Professional literature* 77 (50.0) 500 (38.6)
Contemporary fiction* 59 (38.3) 691 (53.3) Popular scientific literature* 62 (40.3) 317 (24.5)
Literary classics 57 (37.0) 543 (41.9) Travel books 36 (23.4) 310 (23.9)
Romance* 9 (5.8) 450 (34.7) Biographies 48 (31.2) 349 (26.9)
Historical fiction* 38 (24.7) 460 (35.5)
Fantasy* 51 (33.1) 323 (24.9)
Poetry 25 (16.2) 188 (14.5)
Comics, graphic novels* 43 (27.9) 110 (8.5)
*statistically significant difference

Our respondents are somewhat familiar (approximately 60.0%) with the e-book loan service of their local public libraries, but still, slightly more than 40.0% of them confessed that they were unfamiliar with this aspect of library service (Table 5). A significant difference was spotted for respondents related to the size of the settlement. Respondents from larger settlements (over 100,000 inhabitants) are more familiar with the services of their local public library than respondents from smaller communities (𝜒2=258.415, p=0.000). The highest level of unfamiliarity with the services of the local public library demonstrated respondents from communities with population between 60,000-100,000 (N=182, 59.7%).

Table 5: E-book loan service in local public library
E-books N(%)
Yes 560 (38.3)
No 267 (18.3)
I do not know 634 (43.3)

Table 6 contains comparative data about number of books read and hours spent reading per week for years 2019 and 2020 (before and during the pandemic). In both 2019 and 2020 the highest, almost identical, number of respondents read more than 10 books a year (60.3% and 60.2% respectively). Spearman’s rho coefficient shows medium high correlation (ρ=0.588) between those two years. In other words, respondents who read a lot before the pandemic were more likely to read more books in 2020, as well. However, a slight change was noticed for the category ‘between 6-10 books’. Those who read between 6 and 10 books in 2019 tended to read less during 2020. In other words, in 2020 more respondents did not read a book at all, or read up to only 5 books in a year, than they did in 2019.

Still, the hours spent reading in 2020 increased in comparison to 2019. In 2020 more people spent more than 5 hours reading in a week (with 15.0% of those spending more than 12 hours reading) than they did in 2019. Consequently, in 2019 there were more who spent up to 4 hours a week reading. Spearman’s rho coefficient indicates high correlation (ρ=0.805): those respondents who spent more than 9 hours a week reading in 2019 were most likely to continue to do so in 2020. On the other hand, those who did not spend a lot of time reading before the pandemic, did not engage in those activities during the pandemic either.

In both cases, a statistically significant increase was detected – both in the number of read books (MH=4.017, p=0.000) and in the average number of hours spent in reading activities (MH=17.840, p=0.000). When it comes to the number of books, the difference is small; on the other hand, the difference is more visible in relation to average number of hours spent in reading activities. Those respondents who spent a lot of time reading before the pandemic, tended to read even more during the 2020 lockdown. Also, those who read only a little, or did not read at all – were likely to read a book or two during the lockdown.

Table 6: Number of books read and hours spent reading in 2019 and 2020
Number of books 2019
None 13 (0.9) 20 (1.4)
1 book 44 (3.0) 62 (4.2)
Between 2-5 books 248 (17.0) 252 (17.2)
Between 6-10 books 274 (18.7) 244 (16.7)
More than 10 books 882 (60.3) 881 (60.2)
Missing 2 (0.1) 4 (0.3)
Number of hours spent reading
Up to 2 hours 331 (22.6) 227 (15.5)
3-4 hours 412 (28.2) 346 (23.7)
5-8 hours 362 (24.7) 400 (27.3)
9-12 hours 191 (13.1) 257 (17.6)
More than 12 hours 152 (10.4) 220 (15.0)
Missing 15 (1.0) 13 0.9)

Similar to findings by Kvaka (2021), almost half of respondents in our sample thought that the 2020 lockdown had no effect on their reading habits (47.7%) (Table 7). The other half thought that the lockdown did change their reading habits when it came to reading books and the reasons for reading were in alignment with findings of the aforementioned research. Respondents mostly indicated that they chose to read a book during the 2020 lockdown because it gave them possibility to distance themselves from news and reality (47.2%) or helped them keep their sanity (42.3%). This was true for female respondents, whereas male respondents were more likely not to read books at all or to spend time reading social media posts.

Again, age differences in the sample were detected: younger respondents (aged 15-35) who are more active and more prone to sports, socialising but also spending a lot of time online were more likely to read in order to avoid boredom. On the one hand, they obviously lacked other activities during the time of confinement, and on the other, they wanted to reduce time spent online. The oldest respondents (51+) were most likely to be unaffected by the lockdown.

Table 7: Reasons for reading books during the pandemic by sex
Reason N(%) Male
Lockdown had no impact on my reading habits 693 (47.7) 74 (48.1) 618 (47.7)
Distancing from reality* 685 (47.2) 60 (39.0) 624 (48.1)
Keeping my sanity* 612 (42.3) 53 (34.4) 558 (43.1)
Reducing time spending online 366 (25.2) 30 19.5) 335 (25.8)
Boredom 315 (21.7) 35 (22.7) 279 (21.5)
Lack of other activities 312 (21.5) 31 (20.1) 281 (21.7)
Didn’t read books, read social media posts* 24 (1.65) 8 (5.2) 24 (1.7)
*statistically significant difference

One hundred and fifty-eight respondents left comments on various effects the lockdown had on their reading habits. A majority of comments were tied to negative effects such as reduced time spent reading due to lack of time, concentration, stress, parenting and similar obstacles. But, sometimes respondents experienced some positive effects and commented on them, as well. The comment topics are given below with quotations:


‘I’ve read approximately the same number of books in 2019 and 2020, but I’ve noticed that the pandemic affected my choice of books – I started to read more crime fiction books’, R1670

new readers:

‘I didn’t read books for a long time. My friend encouraged me to start and now I read every day.’, R1359

time spent reading:

‘I’d say that my reading habits are the same as before the lockdown, however, I do not read between 4-8 hours a day any more’, R1123

library services during the lockdown:

‘… I found it great that I could read e-book for free … I learned about that Požega library service through the social media page of my library that did not offer that service’, R1117

reading books from one’s own library

‘… I started rereading my own books during the lockdown when libraries were closed’, R473

lack of social activities:

‘I read more during the lockdown because other social events were prohibited (concerts, theatres, cinema, exhibitions)’, R407 ‘No book can replace spending time with your friends’, R285

stress, concentration:

‘I’ve noticed problems with concentration, I read texts several times in order to understand them’, R775
‘… I’d like to add that pandemic has a negative effect on my reading, my stress levels have increased, I cannot concentrate. Hence, spending more time reading than before’, R1499
‘… I read a lot at that time, but my concentration was poor, I kept putting a book down and picking it up again after some time, I was reading a few books simultaneously, with the same failure to follow the plot…’ R1002

worry, lack of motivation:

‘I cannot concentrate, I worry about my family, my children. I cannot read and relax as I could before’, R446
‘Reading is wonderful, it takes you into another world… but, I can’t seem to start reading anything and it has been like that for a long time now’, R408

e-books in libraries:

‘I read e-books when I cannot get hold of a printed one. I would have read them more often, if, for instance, I was offered an e-option for a printed book that has a long waiting list in the library’, R1117
‘I’d like a better choice of e-book titles in my local library’, R1897
‘I started reading e-books when libraries were closed during the lockdown’, R1345

suitability of e-books:

‘E-books are not adequate substitute for printed books’, R1848
‘It’s only important to be able to read – format is irrelevant’, R1304

parenting as an obstacle to reading:

‘I’d read more, but I’m a working mother and wife and cannot find time for reading’, R291
‘I have a small child at home and haven’t read a book in the last 3 years’, R1026
‘I read books to my child, I have no time for my own reading’, R1314
‘I love reading, but during the lockdown kindergartens were closed… the only appropriate reading materials for me were short texts’, R426

lack of time for leisure reading:

‘I spent more time reading for my professional education and on communication (business and private) with others, I didn’t have time to read fiction’, R760

increased purchase of books:

‘The pandemic affected us in the sense that we (my family) bought more books than loaned them from the library’, R1452

other media:

‘I started watching TV shows during the lockdown and consequently reduced reading’, R1823
‘Anxiousness and apathy pushed me toward social media and away from reading books’, R745
‘I spend more time on social media because of daily news. That, unfortunately, had a bad effect on my concentration’, R1324

Interestingly, although 47.7% of respondents claimed that the lockdown had no impact on their habit of reading books, it obviously had an effect on their reading habits in general. Almost every third respondent in the sample believed that their reading habits were augmented by the 2020 lockdown (N=485, 33.2%). There were differences about this between male and female in the sample, but we also detected age differences (𝜒2=24.270, p=0.002). The younger the respondents, the more likely they were to have read more (that their reading habits have changed for the positive) during the lockdown.

Discussion and conclusions

The goal of this paper was to analyse findings about reading habits (and their possible change) of a small-language country such as Croatia. The research looked into the reading habits of Croatian adult library users during the period of 2020 lockdown. The research included the sample of 1463 respondents, predominantly female (89.3%), from all parts of Croatia. Almost every second respondent was aged between 36-50 and 61.3% had a higher education degree.

This research is different from other studies on reading habits change due to the COVID-19 disease because it is the first to look only into the habits of adult library users. As far as book reading habits of our sample are concerned, only half reported to have had their reading habits affected by the 2020 lockdown. The reading habits of the youngest respondents (15-35) were particularly affected, whereas the older participants of the study (51+) were mostly unaffected by the lockdown. Avid readers continued reading in the same amount and intensity as before the lockdown, whereas a few of those who did not read before the lockdown, tended to read a book or two during the confinement. E-books did not gain in popularity during the lockdown (in spite of their obvious advantages) and approximately every second library user, primarily from the larger, urban areas in Croatia, is well informed about the library services (particularly e-book loan service). Our research also revealed significant sex and age differences that should be considered by those who create reading policies or offer services that promote reading (such as libraries).

A majority of respondents in the sample describe themselves as avid readers of fiction (75.1%), in particular printed books (95.1%). E-books were preferred by only 4.9% (mostly those between 36-50 years). (RQ1)

In their free time, our respondents read predominantly printed books (93.9%), mostly contemporary fiction, thrillers, detective stories and mysteries and literary classics. Poetry, comic books and graphic novels are the least popular genres in the sample. The second most popular free-time activity that involves reading is reading social media posts (71.7%). Social (and other media) have been heavily used for information purposes during the pandemic, particularly in the beginning (2020), which explains why social media were second ranked in our sample. Our respondents prefer e-form (more than printed) only when it comes to newspapers and magazines, and professional literature is equally used in printed and e-form. Interestingly, e-books are more often read in the free time, even if the reader does not prefer that medium.

Our data show that reading habits of Croatian adult library users changed during the 2020 lockdown for one part of our sample. For 33.2% of respondents they changed in a positive direction (they started reading more) and for 4.4% they changed in a negative direction (reading activities declined), whereas the reading habits of 60.5% of respondents remained unaffected by the confinement. Those respondents who read less than before the pandemic, did so for various reasons: they could not concentrate on the written word or lost motivation for reading, had small children (either kindergarten or school-age who stayed at home) and had to look after them, or just started watching more television. Some additional effects of the 2020 lockdown were that some people reported to have bought more books than they would have done if there had been no lockdown, or even that they switched to another genre. However, even though some respondents from our sample bought more books during 2020 than they did before, the book and periodical sale revenues for Croatia for 2020 give evidence that fewer Croats, in general, bought books in 2020 than in 2019 (Statista, 2021c).

Our data show that respondents who read a lot before 2020 continued to read a lot during the lockdown. However, our data also show a small decline in the number of books read during 2020 (for those respondents who used to read between 6-10 books a year before the pandemic), but also a small increase in lower categories (those who read less than 6 books a year). Significant statistical differences were detected in both the number of books read and average time spent in reading activities. And while the difference in number of books read was really small, the difference for hours spent in reading activities was much more substantial. Similar to findings of Boucher et al. (2020) our respondents seemed to have spent more time reading although they read the same number or just slightly more books, which possibly speaks for the fact that they could not concentrate on what they were reading, as some of them have acknowledged. Those respondents who spent more than nine hours a week reading in 2019 were most likely to continue to do so in 2020, whereas those who did not spend a lot of time reading before the pandemic, tended not engage in those activities during the pandemic either.

For almost half of our sample the 2020 lockdown changed the reasons for reading books: the most frequent reasons were distancing from harsh reality and keeping one’s sanity. E-books, although not being the first choice of our respondents, did gain some popularity during the 2020 lockdown; almost 17.0% percent of our respondents, mostly from bigger, urban areas, reported to having started using e-books more in that period. This may be connected to the fact that public libraries from those bigger settlements were more likely to offer e-book loan service, but not necessarily. There were possibilities to read e-books even if your local public library did not offer the service. During the 2020 lockdown some Croatian public libraries (e.g., the Požega public library) offered e-book loan as a free service to anybody in Croatia and some respondents learned about that through their local public library.

Numerous sex and age differences were identified in the sample: they were noted with regard to devices used to read e-books, type of preferred free-time reading activity, type of preferred book genres, and the reasons for reading books during the 2020 lockdown. The differences should be used in future to redesign library services in relation to user sex and age.

The respondents from our sample are relatively informed (approximately 60.0%) about the e-book loan services of their local public libraries. However, there are still 43.3% of respondents who reported being unaware of the existence of the service. Library users from smaller settlements (100.000 inhabitants or less) are more likely to be ignorant of their library services than respondents from larger communities. This may depend on the fact that libraries in larger communities may be bigger institutions, with more staff and opportunities to advertise their services than the libraries in smaller communities.

The described research of reading habits (and their change) of Croatian adult library users presents one of many studies currently being conducted globally on the effects of COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath. In many aspects, our findings were not that different from findings of other studies conducted in much larger countries than Croatia. The same as the respondents from the British study (Boucher et al., 2020) our respondents also tended to spend more time in unproductive reading (not being able to concentrate on the text) or preferred printed to e-books, which is similar to a Canadian study (Hirchberg, 2020). Still, unlike other studies, our study revealed that the reading habits of younger people (aged 15-35) were most likely to be (positively) affected by the 2020 lockdown.

The COVID-19 disease is still around (in its many variations and mutations of the virus) and people have become slightly accustomed to living in accordance with epidemiological measures. Although this research gave answers to some questions about the effect of the 2020 lockdown on reading habits in Croatia, the fact that we still live with the threat of the disease makes it necessary to continue to study reading habits and measure whether they continue to change under the prolonged influence of the threat of the pandemic.

About the authors

Kornelija Petr Balog is a Professor at the Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Osijek, Croatia. Her research interests include organisation of information, library services to underserved and marginalized population and their information behaviour, professional education, information literacy, and performance measurement. She can be contacted at kpetr@ffos.hr.
Boris Badurina is a Professor at the Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Osijek, Croatia. His research interests include digital libraries development, new technologies use, impact, and acceptance and lately social media and e-book use and perception. He can be contacted at boris.badurina@ffos.hr.
Srđan Lukačević is a head of the Acquisitions Department at the City and University Library Osijek. His research activities include collection development, marketing and promotion, social networks, senior citizens’ computer and information literacy, and performance measurement. He is editor-in-chief of a professional journal Knjižničarstvo [Librarianship] and can be contacted at slukacevic@gskos.hr.
Dino Radmilović is a librarian at the Circulation Department of the City and University Library Osijek and a coordinator of the 'Library at your doorstep' service. His areas of research and activities are user education, social networks (marketing and promotion), senior citizens’ computer and information literacy, and performance measurement. He can be contacted at rdino@gskos.hr.


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How to cite this paper

Petr Balog, K., Badurina, B., Lukačević, S. & Radmilović, D. (2022). Reading habits of Croatian adult library users during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 Information Research, 27(4), paper 947. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/27-4/paper947.html (Archived by the Internet Archive at https://bit.ly/3WiMacB) https://doi.org/10.47989/irpaper947

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