Takeaways from the Pew Research study on libraries
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, offered his personal observations on the project’s survey report, “Library Services in the Digital Age” (PDF file), released January 22. The report indicated that library users wanted both books and free access to the internet in nearly equal amounts. Rainie presented his findings at a research update on Saturday, January 26, at the Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.
Takeaway #1: People love their libraries even more for what they say about their communities than for how libraries met their personal needs. “You can use this information to show that one reason libraries stand high in public opinion is that change is built into your DNA,” Rainie said. “But you still need support.”
Takeaway #2: Libraries have rebranded themselves as technology hubs. Free access to computers and the internet is as important as borrowing books and reference services. “But that brings new pressure on you to uphold that part of your services,” Rainie said. “Based on other Pew data, every other major institution (government, churches, banks, corporations) has fallen in public esteem except libraries, the military, and first responders (such as firefighters).”
Takeaway #3: The public wants everything equally, so library leadership will matter in setting priorities. “They want AskALibrary services, apps, tech petting zoos, Amazon-like recommendations, e-reader instruction, with very little prioritization,” he said. “And don’t mess with our print books either.” A corollary to this, Rainie noted, was that African Americans and Latinos are more enthusiastic over libraries than whites. “This shows that urban libraries are making a close connection to their communities.”
Takeaway #4: The public invites you to be more engaged in knotty problems. “85% of the respondents wanted libraries to coordinate services with local schools and 82% wanted free literacy programs,” Rainie said. “Again, the message is: ‘We love our books and all this other stuff too.’”
Takeaway #5: Libraries have both a public relations problem and an opportunity. The survey also shows that there are indeed people who do not know what’s going on in libraries. “Just as smartphones are scary to some,” he said, “libraries are scary to others. Make sure those people are aware of the array of your services.”
Takeaway #6: The target audiences for engagement and outreach are not hard to identify. “There is a 22% gap between book readers and library users, and a 31% gap between those who have ever visited a library and those who visited one recently,” he said. Rainie noted that there is a churn in library use that continually restocks the user base. Parents with young children are strong library users; use falls off when the kids grow up. “There is an isolated population out there that matters to you,” he said. 20% of those surveyed have never seen a family member use a library when they were growing up, and 23% have not read a book in the past 12 months. This calls for outreach to information-poor populations.