Libraries Are Loved, But there’s still work to be done.

Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Lee Rainie, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. According to data the Pew researchers have compiled, it is abundantly clear that Americans love their libraries. But there are some surprising twists:

Although 91% of those 16 and older believe that libraries are important to their communities, only 76% say libraries are important to them! They believe strongly in the following:

  • the central mission of the library: promoting literacy and the love of reading
  • that libraries provide services many would have a hard time finding elsewhere, and
  • that libraries improve the quality of life in the community.

On the other hand, 50% of those surveyed think people don’t need libraries as much as they used to, because they can find information on their own.

Core functions of libraries continue to be lending books, providing reference help, free access to computers and the internet, & quiet study spaces. People instinctively thnk of the library as a platform for getting government, health, or job information – which means libraries need to maintain important ties to communities and services.

The data show that only 23% of patrons say they know all or most of the services libraries offer; 47% know some of them, and 30% know nothing or not much about what libraries offer. Since even non-users are fans, we need to address the gap between those who like libraries and those who actually use them. The biggest driver in patron engagement in the library is the addition of a child. But library use is also affected by economic job status, getting an e-reader. The biggest driver in decreased use is acquisition of personal technology.

Of library users, almost half say no one else in their household uses the library; 39% of Americans don’t have library cards, 19% have never visited a library, and 9% don’t even know where the library is! Almost equal numbers of people want the library to remove some books and shelves to make room for tech centers, reading and meeting rooms, and cultural events. Agreement with this varies by age, ethnic group, income and level of education.

Most users think libraries should coordinate closely with local schools in providing resources to kids, offer free early literacy programs – in other words, to fix the schools. New literacies are being required now, including technology literacy, search, and facility with apps.

So, the most successful libraries should be offering:
1. tech skills training
2. preschool programs
3. after school activities
4. esl courses
5. lifelong learning/ credentialing competency
6. fill community/civic information curation gaps – things that the local newspaper used to be good at: city hall, school boards, library boards,
7. help for small business/entrepreneurs/nonprofits
8. serendipity agents of discovery “if you want fun, interesting, sentimental… stuff you didn’t know you were interested in, come to the library.”


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