The good news is libraries remain popular, trusted institutions. But according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, fewer Americas are visiting libraries, and those who are want the library to deliver innovative new services.
Compared with Pew surveys from recent years, fewer Americans 16 and older reported visiting a library, bookmobile, or library website in the last 12 months: 46% of respondents reported a visit to a physical library, or bookmobile down from 53% in 2012; and 22% reported using a library website in the past year, down from with 30% in 2013. Mobile access, meanwhile, is surging. Among those who have used a public library website in the past 12 months, 50% said they accessed it using a mobile device such as a tablet computer or smartphone, up from 39% in 2012.
As far as library services go, respondents said they still value “traditional” library services—such as book lending. But respondents also expect libraries to support local education; serve special constituents such as veterans, active-duty military personnel and immigrants; help local businesses, job seekers and those upgrading their work skills; and more patrons want their library to embrace new technologies such as 3-D printers and to provide services “to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry.” Some 30% of those 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” move some print books out of libraries to make room for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms and cultural events—a 10-point increase over 2012’s survey.
“Libraries are undergoing the same disruption as many other institutions in the digital age,” noted John Horrigan, senior researcher at Pew Research and the main author of the new report. “These findings show how challenging things are.”
Among the survey’s other key findings:
- 65% overall say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community; 50% of Hispanics and 35% of African Americans say library closures would have a major impact on them and their families.
- Fully 85% of Americans say that libraries should “definitely” coordinate with schools in providing resources for children.
- 85% also say that libraries should “definitely” offer free literacy programs to help kids prepare for school.
- 78% believe that libraries are effective at promoting literacy and love of reading.
- 78% of those 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones, and apps.
- 75% say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies.
The latest Pew findings are based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,004 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted from March 17 to April 12, 2015. The report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the project from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The latest survey follows a three-phase research effort on libraries undertaken by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, concluded last year. The first phase of of the Pew Research “Libraries, Patrons, and E-books" program 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 a third phase looking at patron behavior was released, beginning in December, 2013.
The complete report is here.