In two previous surveys released over the last year, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found that, despite the charge of technology, libraries remain popular among the American public. And in a follow-up report released today, Pew details a segment of the population to which libraries are especially popular: parents of minor children. “Fully 94% of parents say libraries are important for their children,” the report notes, “and 79% describe libraries as ‘very’ important.” Among the parents surveyed, access to books tops the list of important services. “Libraries," parents say, “help inculcate their children’s love of reading and books.”
The survey, Parents, Children, Libraries, and Reading, breaks out and focuses on 584 parents of children under 18 from its general survey of 2,252 Americans conducted in the fall of 2012. Among the survey’s notable findings:
Book borrowing remains the most important service of the library for parents, with some 96% of parents saying that borrowing books is important.
81% of parents say a major reason libraries are important is that libraries provide their children with information and resources not available at home.
71% say libraries are important because they are a “safe place” for children.
Almost every parent (97%) says it is important for libraries to offer “programs and classes for children and teens.”
And, as the Common Core education guidelines begin to be implemented, comes this gem: Parents want libraries to “increase involvement with helping children prepare for school and providing resources for school children.” Nearly nine in ten parents say that libraries should "definitely offer free literacy programs" to help young children prepare for school, and 86% want public libraries to “coordinate more closely with local schools to provide resources to children.”
Not surprisingly, parents with lower incomes (annual household earnings less than $50,000) are more likely than parents in higher income households to say they would be “very likely” to take advantage of library services, including classes on how to download library e-books (44% vs. 29%); e-readers already loaded with library content (40% vs. 22%); digital media labs (40% vs. 28%); and classes on how to use e-readers (34% vs. 16%).
In addition, parents in lower-income households are more likely to say it is important for libraries to offer “librarians to help people, free access to computers and the internet, quiet study spaces, research resources, jobs and career materials, free events and activities, and free meeting spaces for the community.”
In some ways, Pew officials say, the results are striking. “Parents’ ties to libraries are striking because parents are more likely than other adults to have computers, Internet access, smartphones, and tablet computers,” notes Kathryn Zickuhr, research analyst at the Pew Internet Project. “The presence of this technology in their lives might make them less reliant on libraries because they have access to information and media through other convenient platforms. But the opposite is the case—the more technology they have, the more they’re likely to take advantage of library services.”
The latest survey comes after two previous surveys have indicated that libraries have done a good job carrying their brand forward into the digital age. The first phase of Pew Research "Libraries, Patrons, and E-books," was released in June, 2012, and looked at the rise of digital reading. The second report, "Library Services in the Digital Age," was released in January, 2013, and examined how libraries are “transitioning their services" in the digital age. The surveys are conducted with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
As Pew executive director Lee Rainie told attendees at the 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting, a third and final phase of library research is coming sometime in 2014. Rainie confirmed to PW that that work has begun on the third phase, which will look at creating a “Library User Segmentation Typology,” or, roughly translated, a marketing report.
The “parents” report, he explained, is still part of the “second phase” of research, and, he added, there will be yet another report from the second phase that will be out around the ALA annual conference in late June.