Libraries in the United States need to do a better job at letting the public know about their digital collections. Branches spend a copious amount of money on audiobooks and e-books and most people are unaware that they can borrow digital content for free.
More than three quarters (76%) of American adults say libraries serve the learning and educational needs of their communities either “very well” (37%) or “pretty well” (39%), according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And 71% say libraries serve their own personal needs and the needs of their families “very well” or “pretty well.”
The survey of more than 2,700 adults finds that the number of adults using libraries and bookmobiles in the past 12 months has drifted downward since 2012, while the number of users of library websites is leveling off. Overall, 78% of adults have ever gone to a library, while 44% say they went to a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months. In 2012, when Pew Research Center began tracking library usage, 53% of adults said they were recent library users. The data in this survey show that 31% of adults had used a library website over the past 12 months, compared with 25% who did so in 2012 and 30% who did so in 2013.
“Technological change and social forces are driving the reinvention of libraries across the country,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center. “Users of libraries are changing their patronage patterns and are expressing their eagerness for these community institutions to serve a significant appetite for lifelong learning opportunities that are tied to people wanting to adjust to changes in the job market and to their yearning for personal enrichment.”
Previous Pew Research Center data suggest that strong majorities of adults consider themselves “lifelong learners” and libraries around the country are working to fit their programs and services into local educational ecosystems. This analysis finds that 97% of recent library users say that the term “lifelong learner” applies “very well” or “pretty well” to them and a similar share of library website users (98%) also strongly identified with being lifelong learners.
These findings are based on a nationwide survey of 2,752 Americans ages 18 and older, conducted from Oct.13 to Nov. 15, 2015. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Among the other findings:
Notable shares of Americans do not know that libraries offer learning-related programs and materials.
62% of adults say they know that their local libraries have e-book lending programs, while 22% say they do not know whether their libraries offer the service 41% of adults say they know their local libraries have online career and job-related resources. Yet 38% say they do not know if such resources are offered by their local libraries and another 21% say their libraries does not offer them.
26% of adults say they know their local libraries offer online GED or high school equivalency classes. Yet 47% say they do not know if such programs are offered by their local libraries and another 27% say these kinds of classes are not available 47% say they do not know if their local libraries offer programs on starting a new business and another 28% say their public libraries do not offer programs for starting a new business.
24% of adults say their local libraries offer online programs that certify that people have mastered new skills. However, 49% say they do not know if such programs are being offered and another 27% say they are not offered by their local libraries.
Some groups are more likely to use libraries – including women, young adults and those with high levels of education
Recent library users are more likely to be women (51%) than men (38%).
Parents of minor children (50%) and those with higher levels of education (58% of college or post-college graduates) are more likely to have visited a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months.
Younger adults ages 18 to 29 (54%) are more likely than their elders to have used libraries during the previous year.
Hispanics (38%) and those who live in rural areas (36%) are less likely to have visited a library.
Library users self-identify as lifelong learners and as people interested in new information.
84% of those who visited libraries in the past 12 months are personal learners – those who have participated in personal learning experiences of various kinds, compared with 66% of those who had not recently visited libraries or bookmobiles.
79% of those who have used libraries or bookmobiles in the past 12 months say the statement “I think of myself as a lifelong learner” describes them “very well” and 18% say “somewhat well.”
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.