Computer tablets and e-book readers are surging in popularity, with nearly a third of Americans owning at least one of the digital devices, according to a new study.

"In the time we have been doing surveys about the adoption and use of digital technology, we have never seen growth quite like this," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, told CBC News in an email.

"These findings have major implications for every media company, especially book publishers, everyone in a knowledge business, and key community institutions like libraries. They show how radically the tectonic plates of information creation and dissemination are shifting under our feet."

The number of adults in the U.S. who owned each device — a tablet computer and an e-book reader — nearly doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent between mid-December and early January, the study found.

The number of Americans owning at least one of the devices jumped from 18 per cent in December to 29 per cent in January, and much of the increase may be attributed to gift-giving over the holiday season.

Tablet owners tend to have higher education (31 per cent had college educations or higher), are more affluent (36 per cent lived in households earning more than $75,000), and tend to be under age 50.

Meanwhile, women led the growth in ownership of e-book readers (21 per cent of women owned one compared with 16 per cent of men).

E-book owners also tend to have higher education and income, but the gap between the higher and lower income groups isn't as dramatic with e-books. For example, 19 per cent of household earning between $30,000 and $50,000 have e-book readers, which is 12 percentage points behind households earning $75,000 or more that own such devices.

The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20 percentage points. The findings are based on three national surveys that involved reaching people both on landlines and cellphones, said Rainie.

The pre-holiday survey conducted among 2,986 people has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. The post-holiday data come from the combined results of two surveys in January with a total respondent pool of 2,008. The combined surveys have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

The Pew Research Centre is a non-profit think-tank based in Washington, D.C. The research was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.