More than half of all Americans 16 and over used a public library in the past year, either in person or via the the Web, according to a survey report on library use released this week by the Pew Research Center. The survey also found that Americans continue to view public libraries as vital to their communities: some 77% say that public libraries provide them with the resources they need, and 66% say the closing of their local public library would have a major impact on their community.
But the report also suggests that the public is somewhat conflicted how books should be treated in the library, as libraries continue to adapt to the digital age.
Among Pew’s most recent findings from its survey of public library usage:
- Digital services and makerspaces are a hot trend in libraries, and while some 24% of adults support the idea of removing books in order to make way for more such community and tech-oriented spaces, 31% say libraries should not do this.
- Librarians have seen a jump in their trust factor: 37% of Americans said that public libraries contribute “a lot” when deciding what information they can trust, a hefty 13-point jump over last year’s survey.
- Print book lending remains the most popular activity at public libraries: 64% of library users reported checking out a book in the last 12 months, while only 29% used a computer at the library in the same timeframe.
- A lack of awareness appears to be one of the factors holding back e-books in libraries: some 44% of those surveyed said their local public libraries loaned e-books, which is up from previous years. But Pew researchers note that a University of Maryland report found that that 90% of libraries have e-book lending programs, suggesting many Americans are still not aware of e-book services at their local libraries.
While the survey suggests that print books remain at the core of library services, digital services are also popular. Fully 80% of those surveyed said the library “should definitely offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools such as computers and smartphones,” and half say “the library should offer to buy 3-D printers and other digital tools so people can learn to use them.” And, an emerging library “service” revolves around Wi-Fi connections, with some 7% saying they have connected to a library’s Wi-Fi system when the library building itself was closed.
The report is based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 7 to April 4, 2016, among 1,601 adults, 16 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is the latest survey in a series of surveys on public libraries done by Pew, and comes a week after Pew released its annual survey of Americans’ book reading habits.