At the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia this past Sunday, director of the Pew Internet and American Life project Lee Rainie discussed the most recent Pew Research Center Library survey that some in the community felt “raised more questions than it answered.” And along with providing context for the data, he announced the development of a new widget that will enable librarians to mine the survey findings for information on their own communities.

According to the report, “many library services are seen as important.” People want libraries to provide free media, excellent librarian assistance, free use of technology, and they really want quiet spaces. But what complicates these findings further, Rainie explained, is the levels of enthusiasm for each service vary among different groups of people.

Rainie offered attendees a run down of the five summary points from the lastest report:

“Libraries are deeply appreciated, especially for their community role and impact.”

As with the previous surveys, the data indicates that the library is a tremendously important institution and is valued on the personal and community level. However, the most current data highlights in multiple instances that the value of libraries on a personal level ranks consistently lower than the community level.

Rainie explained that this “shows that the personal relationship people have with their libraries is not as powerful as their estimation of the libraries role in the future.” This difference is particularly noteworthy in that it occurs in multiple ways within the most current data. While 96% of people agreed with the statement that “public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading,” for example, "81% agreed with the assertion that “public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere.”

“The overall use of libraries is shifting.”

The data showed a five-point drop in people who had visited the library in the past twelve months compared with 2012’s findings. “The most striking drop” Rainie pointed out, “was among people who are considered to be the most important patrons.”

These include women, African Americans, people ages 18-29, working class households, and even parents of minors. At the same time. Rainie pointed to some of the same populations are more likely to have used the library Web site, with library Web site visits overall increasing by 5% from the previous year, signifying a change in interaction.

“Libraries have a mandate to intervene in community life.”

Overwhelmingly, Rainie noted, two topics emerged most prominently: People want to see libraries “coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to kids” as well as “offer free early literacy program to help young children prepare for school.”

“Libraries are cross-pressured by their patrons regarding what to do heading into the future.”

When asked whether the libraries should move “some books/stacks out of public locations,” the data shows wide-ranging opinions.

“The tension embedded in the data,” Rainie explained “is that if you fool around with your books, you are fooling around with your primary customers. They people who are most engaged with you know. But if you don’t do it, your hope of getting new audiences or being relevant to some of the people who you really care about serving, that’s at risk.”

"New insights into patrons and non-patrons that will help you figure things out."

One of the main objectives for this phase of research was to collect the data necessary for statistical modeling. The survey was designed to incorporate factors that help separate the different kinds of library user and non-users. In all seven user groups emerged along with two non-user groups. The most surprising of which emerged from the non-users, Rainie explained.

“We thought that there might be a super high tech group who just don’t go to libraries because they think they don’t need it. Not the case. The super high techs are library users and are really affectionate about libraries.” Rather, the most prominent group of the non-users, consisting of 10% of the overall population, are people who have never been to a library in their whole life, but believe libraries are vital to the community never the less.

Rainie briefly discussed the information profiles of all nine groups which segment the market place for library users. However, the full typology—including the characteristics and motivations for each user group—will be the focus of the scheduled session in March at PLA.


Rainie was especially excited to announce plans to develop the typologies into a “what type of library user are you?” quiz using the 15 most determinant questions that separate people in to these groups.

The quiz will be offered in the form of a widget that will provide librarians with data from their specific communities. Rainer envisions librarians working with local government and the press to drive people to take the quiz: “you can get a pretty decent portrait of your community to understand your patrons as you see fit off this.”

The widget will hopefully be available by ALA Annual in Las Vegas.