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Burek Pierce, Reading Data Documenting 21st Century Reading: Vlogbrothers, The Nerdfighter Census, and Actual Readers

Jennifer Burek Pierce, Ph.D.
University of Iowa

Digital reading communities tend to self-document their interests and habits, activity than can allow researchers a window into what it means to read in the twenty-first century.  Since 2014, the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, created by John Green and his brother Hank, has administered an annual survey called the Nerdfighter Census. The community of their viewers and readers adopted the name Nerdfighters in 2007, and now thousands of Nerdfighters annually share information about their reading habits as well as YouTube viewing. The resulting data offer a broad perspective on contemporary reading, in part because a substantial number of survey respondents offer personal, sometimes quirky, answers to the Census’s questions about books and reading. Those unconventional survey answers can be identified with computational queries, but require further qualitative analysis.  The tandem use of computational and close-reading methods unveils the way the reading of large numbers of people can be characterized beyond NEH and NEA surveys that find a very modest number of committed readers in the U.S.