The Pew Report on Public Libraries

A lot of buzz has been created over University of Illinois’ Pew report and for good reason. Everyone seems to latch onto the statistic that Gen Y users are the most likely to visit a public library for problem-solving research. While this of course is extremely satisfying to librarians, I was particularly impressed by the numbers around library users by income and education.

Up until reading this report I simply assumed (erroneously, apparently) that the vast majority of public library patrons are those who have unreliable or no internet connection. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, by the Pew report’s findings that

Fifty-nine percent of those with incomes of more than $40,000 a year say they have visited a public library; by contrast 48% of those with incomes of less than $40,000 a year say they have gone to the library. Some 61% of those who use the internet have gone to libraries in the past year, compared with only 28% of those who do not use the internet.

Amazing. The higher the income, the more likely you are to visit a library. For some reason this feels counterintuitive. I told a friend of mine who works in another field unrelated to library science and it surprised him, too.

I think this is wonderful. Not only does this bode well for public libraries, but academic libraries as well. It would seem that the more able one is to attain information financially, the more they understand that the library is a great resource. However, it leaves me rather troubled that some of those who have little access to the internet still do not use our resources. It seems to me that they are just as in need of library services as their neighbors who have broadband, if not more so.

Later the report shares another somewhat related but equally energizing statistic:

The greater one’s level of educational achievement, the more likely one is to go the library. For example, 44% of those with only a high school diploma have gone to the library recently, compared with 57% of those who have attended college, but have not received a degree. Fully 68% of those with at least a college degree have been to a library in the past year.

These numbers coupled with the stats that show Gen Y to be the largest group of library users excites me to see the future of libraries. Academic libraries especially should be excited about these numbers. The more education their students receive the more likely they are to return to the library in the future.

How do we apply these stats? At least from a public library standpoint I would think that outreach to underprivileged patrons could be increased to help them to know where they can find answers. It would also seem prudent to continue to promote life-long learning knowing that those with more education are more likely to continue to use libraries.


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