Sunday, March 31, 2013

Library services in the digital age

In "Library services in the digital age," a study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zickuhr, Rainie, and Purcell examine the results from a survey of 2,252 Americans age 16 and above in October and November of 2012. They also use quotes and comments from some 2,067 library staff members and patrons who participated in in-person focus groups and online canvassing focusing on the future of libraries and library services in order to "illustrate how they are thinking about and implementing new library services." Overall, the study found that print books are still an important part of the modern library but that library patrons are "eager to see libraries' digital services expand."

Some of the highlights from the study include that computer and internet access is rated nearly as important as borrowing books and reference librarians in services that libraries provide at around 80% saying it's important, and that while about 53% of Americans have visited a library of bookmobile in the past 12 months, 91% view libraries as important to their communities, and 76% view libraries as important to them and their families, only 22% say they know all or most of the services their library provides, with another 46% saying they know some of what their libraries offer. Other interesting notes from the study include that only 20% of Americans thought that libraries should remove printed books and stacks from public locations in order to make more room for meeting, work, and computer space while 39% said they maybe should, and a full 36% said libraries definitely shouldn't do this. Of the 53% of Americans that did visit a library in the past year, 73% say they visit to borrow print books, 50% say they get help from a librarian, and 26% say used the computers or WiFi at the library to go online. Also, the study showed that libraries are especially seen as important to African-Americans and Hispanics. They were more likely than Caucasians to say libraries are important to them and their families and to the community and said they were more likely to use the new library services that Pew asked about, including things like library-related cell phone apps, technology-related classes, and online research assistance services.

I think there could be some interesting discussion about the seeming difference in use of libraries vs. their how they are viewed. Does it say something about our society that 91% of Americans view libraries as important to their community but only 53% have actually visited a library in the past year? How about that while 77% of Americans view free computer and internet access as an important service libraries provide, only 26% of those that have visited a library in the past year connected to the Internet from a computer or via WiFi while there?

Finally, one particularly interesting statistic that jumped out to me was in response to the “have you ever visited a library or bookmobile” question. Only 90% of college graduates said they have ever visited a library or bookmobile. That means a full 10% of college graduates said they have never stepped foot in a library. That astounds me.

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