What Can We Learn From Pew’s Changing World of Librarians

Lee Raine’s April 24, 2013 presentation to DC/SLA

The presentation includes 3 technology revolutions and their impact on libraries: broadband internet access, mobile access, and the digital revolution. Plus some megatakeaways from Pew’s research on libraries in the digital age. Some of it is good news and some of it looks like areas of opportunity.

1. People love their libraries even more for what they say about their communities than for how libraries meet personal needs

  • 91% say libraries are important to their communities
  • 76% say libraries are important to them and their families

Great news!

2. People like librarians

  • 98% of “ever” library visitors say interactions are “very positive”
  • 81% of library visitors say librarians are “very helpful”
  • 50% of “last year” visitors got help from a librarian

More good news – it would be nice if that last number were a bit higher.

3.Libraries have rebranded themselves as tech hubs

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

No real surprises here – nice to see reference is still in high demand even with the lines at the door at opening time for the computers :-). Though I am curious what patrons qualify as reference services and reference librarians.

4. Libraries have a PR problem / opportunity

  • 22% say that they know all or most of the services their libraries offer
  • 46% say they know some of what their libraries offer
  • 31% said they know not much or nothing at all of what their libraries offer

hmmm. Thanks for wording it as an opportunity. This is definitely and areas libraries can work to improve upon. Libraries offer so many services how do we make people aware of all of them? Or do we need to cut back on services? Maybe we should focusing on doing and promoting some things really well and let others go? Something to think about.

5. There is churn in library use that restocks the user base

Reasons library use INCREASED(26%)

  • Enjoy taking their children, grandchildren 26%
  • Do research and use reference materials 14%
  • Borrow books more 12%
  • Student 10%
  • Use library computers and internet 8%
  • Have more time to read now, retired 6%
  • To save money 6%
  • Good selection and variety 5%
  • E-books, audio books, media are available 5%
  • Convenient 5%
  • Reading more now 5%
  • Library events and activities 4%
  • Good library and helpful staff 3%
  • Quiet, relaxing time, social locale 2%
  • Use for my job2%

Reasons library use DECREASED (22%)

  • Can get books, do research online and the internet is more convenient 
  • 40%
  • Library is not as useful because my children have grown, I’m retired, I’m no longer a student 


  • Too busy, no time 12%
  • Can’t get to library, moved, don’t know where library is 9%
  • Prefer e-books 6%
  • Prefer to buy books or get books from friends 5%
  • Not interested 4%
  • Health issues 3%
  • Don’t read much these days 3%
  • Don’t like local library or staff 3%
  • Children are too young 2%

Nice to see the increase is still higher than the decrease but some of those reasons for decrease are a little disturbing. I’ll skip over the first – I’m not there is much we can do about that one. Definitely something can be done to address the second, I bet there are services we have that would interest that group that they just don’t know about.

6. There is a truly detached population out there that matters to you

  • 20% never saw a family member use a library when they were growing up
  • 16% have never visited a library
  • 23% didn’t read a book last 12 months

Look at all that opportunity!

Find more data on Pew’s research on libraries in the digital age at their website.

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