Released: April 9, 2012

A sneak peek at our research timeline


As you may know, Pew Internet received a $1.4 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study the role of libraries in users’ lives and in their communities. So far, we’ve released reports chronicling the adoption of e-readers and tablet computers and the rise of e-reading — but we’re just getting started.

Over the course of the next two years, we’ll come out with a series of reports examining technology adoption and use in libraries, patrons’ expectations, the “library of the future,” and how libraries fit into people’s lives in all sorts of ways.

Our next report, for instance, is a look at the state of e-book borrowing in American libraries, and what sort of experiences people have when they want to check out digital content. This report will combine the quantitative results for our December 2011 nationally representative phone survey with longer responses and stories from a series of online surveys of both librarians and e-book borrowers.

How you can participate

While our phone surveys are random to ensure statistical accuracy, we are actively looking for e-book borrowers to volunteer to take our online surveys. So if you ever check out or download e-books from a public library — or if you’re a librarian at a library that has e-books available for check-out — please sign up.

Not an e-book borrower? We’d still love to hear from you. Some of our future online surveys will cover a lot of ground, so take a look to see which groups apply to you. Once you sign up (and click on the confirmation link that we send you), you’ll be notified whenever relevant online surveys are in the field.

Learn more

If you would like to learn more about where this research series is headed, an abbreviated version of our research plans is available below. A full version is also available in our “About” section here.

Last updated July 2013

Stage One (August 2011-November 2012)

Portrait of new technology adoption with a special focus on e-book readers, tablet computers and the new challenges/opportunities they bring to libraries

This research will involve two separate strands of research. The first will be a national phone survey before the end of 2011. The survey will place special emphasis on the reading habits of those who own tablet computers and e-book readers. It will also cover the impact of those devices on their reading habits and their experiences with libraries.

The second strand of research will involve an online survey of librarians aimed at exploring their experiences with patrons and publishers related to e-books and the devices on which people read them. Additionally, we will recruit patrons to complete an online survey about their experiences of borrowing e-books from libraries.

In addition to the two main research areas above, two additional supplementary reports will be released through the summer of 2012 looking at library use in different community types and at the habits of younger library users.


Stage Two (September 2012-July 2013)

The changing world of library services and the choices libraries must make

This research will cover the range and rationale for the new services libraries are offering and explore public attitudes towards the choices that libraries face about the services they can offer and will explore future of libraries in people’s imaginations. The research would include 16 focus groups in at least four diverse communities. Some of the groups would focus on librarians; some would focus on patrons. The research will also contain a national phone survey of the general public and an online survey of librarians. The goals is to gather a portrait of the evolving role of libraries in communities and the array of new services that libraries around the country are creating.

Additional material on the role of libraries in the life of special populations will be issued in the late summer of 2013, focusing on lower-income users, minorities, rural residents, and senior citizens.


Stage Three (July 2013 – April 2014)

A typology of who does – and does not – use libraries

This research would be built around a large national phone survey designed to yield a consumer segmentation of the library patron “marketplace” oriented around users’ needs, experiences, and their sense of the opportunities that libraries provide. The typology would be organized around three broad lines of inquiry:

  1. People’s sense of what assets are available in libraries, including technology. We would also ask about their personal technology assets.
  2. People’s actual use of libraries: How do they use materials, technology, and other library services. We would also gather a basic picture of how they use technology assets.
  3. What people think about and expect of libraries. People’s attitudes about the role of libraries and technology at their libraries play in their lives and in their communities.

We would also gather evidence of people’s general attitudes about the role of technology in their lives. We would use these findings to construct a “library user” typology that sorts patrons into roughly 6 to 10 different user “types” based on the qualities of their libraries, their use of libraries, and their attitudes about libraries.

A report on the main findings will be issued in early 2014.

A second report from these findings will be a portrait of “emerging” library users – those ages 16-24 in late winter/early spring 2014.