The Public Library Today: Recent Data

Last Wednesday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released some data about the public’s view and use of their public libraries.

The findings were overall very good.

It seems as if people know libraries are important and want them in their community (94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community), yet were unsure what exact role libraries have in their day-to-day life.

Books still account for the market share of users (80% cited books and media as being an important service provided), but over 50% say that Americans do not need public libraries as much as they used to. Only 23% said that they were aware of “all or most” of the programs offered at their local library.

How important are

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

Libraries are still valuable to job seekers (47%), retirees & the unemployed (49%), those with a disability (40%), and those who lack home internet access (56%).

Still, these numbers barely reach 50%: about half of these populations do not find the library valuable or do not know.

public libraries and tech

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

What does all of this data tell us about public libraries today?

 1.)    People still know libraries are important

People still want libraries in their communities. They know that having a library is better than not having a library. It is a safe community space, where learning, discourse, and teaching are encouraged. It provides open access to information, and provides other services that are important to Americans. But…

 2.)    Americans can’t really articulate specifics as to why libraries are important

…outside of books and quiet, of course. Don’t get me wrong – these features are the lifeblood of libraries. But over 50% of those polled said that Americans do not need libraries as much as they used to and only 23% were aware of all or most of library programming. How can libraries become essential to the community? How do libraries get most people aware of their programming?

3.)    New marketing techniques

Libraries need to market themselves outside of the reference/books/children’s activities realm. Yes these are important aspects of what we do, but people already know that. Do they know that there will be free ESL classes? Do they know there will be a networking social with a local business entrepreneur? Do they know there will classes teaching advanced Adobe Photoshop? These aspects need to be highlighted more, so that more people can think of specific reasons why their library is integral to the community.

Let’s make sure that the American people find us essential in the years to come.


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