Good News for Libraries

Pew Internet: Information Searches That Solve Problems

There’s good news for libraries in a report issued yesterday of a joint project by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. The topic of the study was how Americans approach problems that might be linked to government:

The problems covered in the survey: 1) dealing with a serious illness or health concern; 2) making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; 3) dealing with a tax matter; 4) changing a job or starting a business; 5) getting information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps; 6) getting information about Social Security or military benefits; 7) getting information about voter registration or a government policy; 8 ) seeking helping on a local government matter such as a traffic problem or schools; 9) becoming involved in a legal matter; and 10) becoming a citizen or helping another person with an immigration matter.

The Internet topped respondents’ list of resources they used to find answers to problems such as these, with 58% of people polled saying that they had consulted the Internet either at home, at work, or at a library.

The study also yielded some surprising facts about library use:

The survey results challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes, not just the problems mentioned in this survey. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.

Most surprising was the heavy library use by Gen Ys, who have grown up with technology. The survey also found out that Internet users are more likely than non-users to patronize libraries (68% to 21%).

“These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down. Librarians have been asked whether the internet makes libraries less relevant. It has not. Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are the most likely to visit libraries,” noted Leigh Estabrook, Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, co-author of a report on the results.