Just in time for the 2014 Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis, Ind., the Pew Research Center Thursday released a long anticipated “typology” of Americans and their library use. Calling it “the first of its kind,” Pew officials said the report, drawn from data gathered in a recent survey, “sheds light on broader issues around the relationship between technology, libraries, and information resources in the U.S.”
“Building this typology has given us a window into the broader context of public libraries’ role in Americans’ technological and information landscape today,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, research associate at the Pew Research Center and a main author of the report. “Rather than describe the basic library usage of various groups, as we’ve done in the past, this typology pulls back to look at what traits go along with higher—or lower—levels of library engagement, and what people with certain library habits and views have in common with each other.”
Among Pew’s major findings:
- More than two-third of Americans are engaged with public libraries: Some 30% of Americans are highly engaged with public libraries, and an additional 39% fall into “medium” engagement categories.
- People who have extensive “economic, social, technological, and cultural resources” are also more likely to use and value libraries.
- Technology users are generally library users,with evidence suggesting that the “most plugged-in and highest-income respondents,” while not as dependent on libraries are nevertheless “highly engaged with public libraries and the most avid supporters of the idea that libraries make communities better.”
- There are people who have never visited a library who still value libraries’ roles in their communities.
- And despite a widely perceived information overload in the digital age, most Americans do not feel overwhelmed by information today. Among the people who feel “information overload,” most are actually less likely to use newer technologies than others—and less likely to use libraries.
“A key theme in these survey findings is that many people see acquiring information as a highly social process in which trusted helpers matter,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project another main author of the report. “Even some of the most self-sufficient information consumers in our sample find that libraries and librarians can be part of their networks when they have problems to solve or decisions to make.”
The report is the latest in a string of library-related research surveys, and is the third of a three-phase effort undertaken by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. 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 “Library Services in the Digital Age,” was released in January, 2013, and examined how libraries are “transitioning their services" in the digital age. The current phase will look at library marketing and consumer perceptions.
The first report of the third phase of research, issued in December, 2013, offered something of a mixed message for libraries. It found that 52% believe they do not need libraries as much as they used to. But while the survey showed Americans may be split over the essential role of libraries in this age of readily accessible online information, it also showed that libraries remain incredibly popular, and are regarded as vital to their communities.
The latest Pew Research Center Library Services Survey report was drawn from a poll of 6,224 Americans 16 or older, from July 18-September 30, 2013. And while the results show that Americans still value libraries, it also laid out the emerging fault lines libraries face in the digital age.