The Pew Center
The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released a new report examining the spectrum of Americans' relationships with public libraries.The report summarizes findings about the relationships between technology, libraries, and information resources in the United States--and the people who interact with each.
The report identifies three major findings. First, that more than 30% of all Americans are highly engaged with--and depend on their public library and library system. About half of all Americans ages 16 and older used a public library in some form in the past year, and correspondingly, libraries are challenged to meet a wide variety of needs across all generations. Second, as a general but not surprising rule, people who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries. People who are less engaged with public libraries tend to have lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities. Third, deeper connections with public libraries are often associated with key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, being a student, and going through a situation in which research and data can help inform a decision. Similarly, quieter times of life, such as retirement, or less momentous periods, such as when people's jobs are stable, might prompt less frequent information searches and library visits.
The report also found that "libraries loom large in the public imagination, and are generally viewed very positively: 90% of Americans ages 16 and older say that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community. This means that many people have a stake in the future of libraries, and as the digital age advances, there is much discussion about where they are headed."
Who uses our public libraries? The report identifies nine (9) specific groups ranging from "Library Lovers"--about 10% of the population--to "Off the Grid" individuals who never use libraries and represent 4% of the general population. Between the groups on either end of the spectrum are seven (7) groups who view libraries favorably, but who's use varies from weekly to rarely (once a year or less).
Demographically, "Library Lovers" are the 66% of people who read a book daily, are mostly women (62%), and have school-age children (40%). More than other groups, they like to learn new things and enjoy tracking down information. They are also active socially and engaged with community events, and rate their communities highly. Seventy-two percent (72%) go online via mobile devices.
The largest group of library users, identified as the "Solid Center" by Pew, includes a slightly higher proportion of men (51%) than the general U.S. population; its median age is 47. Its members are more likely than some other groups to live in small towns and cities, and half have lived in their communities for longer than 10 years. Those in the Solid Center are significantly less likely than high engagement groups to include parents with minor children living at home (28%).
Fully 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say they know where the closest library is, and 72% live within 5 miles of a library branch. Asked how easy it would be for them to use libraries if they wanted, 93% of Americans ages 16 and older say libraries would be easy for them to visit in person, including 74% of those in the Off the Grid group. Further, 82% of all Americans say library websites would be easy for them to use.
You can read the full report here.