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2013 Pew Survey Shows Importance of Public Libraries

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A recent survey shows most Americans appreciate public libraries are important to their communities. Yesterday (Wednesday, December 11, 2013), the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released a report (“How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities”) that indicates 29% of Americans sixteen or older felt the closure of their local libraries would have a “major impact” on them or their families, and 38% of them felt it would have a “minor impact,” while 32% felt it would have “no impact.”

This is admittedly disappointing, but 63% of them felt if their local libraries closed it would have a “major impact” on their communities, and 27% felt it would have a “minor impact,” while only 7% felt it would have “no impact.”

Emily Badger noted on The Atlantic Cities: Places Matter blog, “If you don't regularly (or ever) use your neighborhood library, you may be surprised to learn how many other people do. According to a new Pew survey, nearly half of Americans aged 16 or older – 48 percent if [sic] them – have visited a public library or book mobile in the past year.”

Even more surprising: 90 percent of these same people say their community would be impacted if the library closed (suggesting that a lot of folks either like knowing that the library is there, even if they don't use it, or they recognize that people who do have few alternative resources).

According to the report’s authors, “Women, African-Americans and Hispanics, adults who live in lower-income households, and adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely than other groups to declare all the library services we asked about ‘very important.’ Adults ages 30-64 are also more likely than younger or older respondents to say many of the services are ‘very important,’ as are parents with minor children.”

Libraries are also particularly valued by those who are unemployed, retired, or searching for a job, as well as those living with a disability and internet users who lack home internet access…

Over half of Internet users without home access – 56% – say public libraries’ basic technological resources (such as public computers, Internet access, and printers) are “very important” to them and their families, compared with 33% of all respondents. Just under half of unemployed and retired respondents – 49% – say they librarian assistance in finding information to be “very important,” compared with 41% of employed respondents.

Just under half of job seekers – 47% – say help finding or applying for a job is “very important” to them and their families. Another interesting fact is that 40% of disabled people say help applying for government services is “very important,” compared with 27% of those without a disability.

Public libraries are easy to find, as 91% of Americans say they know where the closest public libraries are to their residences. Amongst this group, most said the closest public library is five miles or less away from their homes.
The vast majority of Americans – 93% – say that it would be easy to visit a public library in person if they wanted to, with 62% saying it would be “very easy.” A clear majority, 82% say it would be easy to use their local public library’s Web site, with 47% saying it would be “very easy.” Within the library, it is easy to locate things, as 91% of Americans who have ever used a public library say it is not difficult to find what they’re looking for, including 35% who say it is “very easy.”

More than half of Americans sixteen and over – 54% – have used a public library in some way in the past twelve months, whether by visiting in person or using a public library’s Web site; 81% have visited a public library or bookmobile at one point or another in their lives; 48% have done so in the past twelve months, down from 53% in 2012; and 44% have visited a public library Web site, of whom 30% have done so in the past 12 months, up from 25% in 2012.

Predictably, parents report that their children use public libraries (including bookmobiles) more often than they do, as amongst parents with minor children living at home, 70% say that a child in the house has visited a public library or bookmobile in the past twelve months. Taken together, this means that 72% of all Americans sixteen and over have either used a public library in the past twelve months or live in a household where another family member or a child is an active recent user of the library.

Among all Americans who have ever used a public library, 94% said that based on their own experiences, they would say “public libraries are welcoming;” 91% said they personally have never had negative experiences using a public library, either in person or online; and 67% said that the public library nearest to where they live could be described as a “nice, pleasant space to be” and another 22% say it’s an “okay space, but could use some improvements.” When asked how well-informed they felt about services their local public libraries offer, 23% of Americans ages sixteen or older who have ever used a public library said they knew all or most of the services, 47% said they knew some of the services, 20% said they knew little about the services, and 10% knew “nothing at all.”

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project sponsored the Pew Research Center Library Survey. For this survey, they interviewed a nationally representative sample of 6,224 people ages sixteen and older living in the United States.

Interviews were conducted via landline with 3,122 people and cell phone with 3,102 people (including 1,588 people without a landline phone). Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted the survey.

Princeton Data Source conducted the interviews in English and Spanish from July 18, 2013 to September 30, 2013. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies.

The margin of sampling error for results based on the complete set of weighted data is + or - 1.4%. Results based on the 5,320 Internet users have a margin of sampling error of + or - 1.5%.

The authors of the report are Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell, and Maeve Duggan. Mr. Rainie is the Director and Dr. Purcell is the Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. A number of experts helped the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project in the research effort: Andrea Berstler, Director, Wicomico Public Library, Maryland; Daphna Blatt, Office of Strategic Planning, The New York Public Library; Richard Chabran, Adjunct Professor, University of Arizona, and e-learning consultant; Larra Clark, American Library Association, Office for Information Technology Policy; Mike Crandall, Professor, Information School, University of Washington; Catherine De Rosa, Vice President, OCLC; LaToya Devezin, American Library Association Spectrum Scholar & librarian, Louisiana; Amy Eshelman, Program Leader for Education, Urban Libraries Council; Christie Hill, Community Relations Director, OCLC; Sarah Houghton, Director, San Rafael Public Library, California; Mimi Ito, Research Director of Digital Media & Learning Hub, University of California Humanities Research Institute; Chris Jowaisas, Senior Program Officer, Global Libraries, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Patrick Losinski, Chief Executive Officer, Columbus Library, Ohio; Jo McGill, Director, Northern Territory Library, Australia; Dwight McInvaill, Director, Georgetown County Library, South Carolina; Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director, Library Journal & School Library Journal; Bobbi Newman, Blogger, Librarian By Day; Annie Norman, State Librarian, Delaware; Carlos Manjarrez, Director, Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, U.S. Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS); Johana Orellana-Cabrera, American Library Association Spectrum Scholar & librarian, Texas; Mayur Patel, Vice President for Strategy & Assessment, John S. & James L. Knight Foundation; Gail Sheldon, Director, Oneonta Public Library, Alabama; Sharman Smith, Executive Director, Mississippi Library Commission; and the Global Libraries staff at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Pew Charitable Trusts support the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project is one of seven ongoing projects.

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