Report

Library services in the digital age

22 Jan 2013
Description

The internet has already had a major impact on how people find and access information, and now the rising popularity of e-books is helping transform Americans’ reading habits. In this changing landscape, public libraries are trying to adjust their services to these new realities while still serving the needs of patrons who rely on more traditional resources. In a new survey of Americans’ attitudes and expectations for public libraries, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that many library patrons are eager to see libraries’ digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age.

The availability of free computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as a vital service of libraries. In a national survey of Americans ages 16 and older:

  • 80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
  • 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
  • 77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.

Moreover, a notable share of Americans say they would embrace even wider uses of technology at libraries such as:

  • Online research services allowing patrons to pose questions and get answers from librarians: 37% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use an “ask a librarian” type of service, and another 36% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • Apps-based access to library materials and programs: 35% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 28% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • Access to technology “petting zoos” to try out new devices: 35% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 34% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • GPS-navigation apps to help patrons locate material inside library buildings: 34% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 28% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • “Redbox”-style lending machines or kiosks located throughout the community where people can check out books, movies or music without having to go to the library itself: 33% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 30% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
  • “Amazon”-style customized book/audio/video recommendation schemes that are based on patrons’ prior library behavior: 29% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 35% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.

When Pew Internet asked the library staff members in an online panel about these services, the three that were most popular were classes on e-borrowing, classes on how to use handheld reading devices, and online “ask a librarian” research services. Many librarians said that their libraries were already offering these resources in various forms, due to demand from their communities.

These are some of the key findings from a new national survey of 2,252 Americans ages 16 and older by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and underwritten by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The interviews were conducted on October 15-November 10, 2012 and done on cell phone and landlines and in English and Spanish.

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2013
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