Released: January 22, 2013

Library Services in the Digital Age

Part 4: What people want from their libraries

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In addition to asking people how they use their local public libraries, we also asked them about how much they felt they know about the different services and programs their library offers. We also examined how important Americans feel various library services are to their communities, and explored what sort of activities and resources people might be interested in using at libraries in the future.

How much people know about what their library offers

In general, Americans feel somewhat well-informed about the various services offered by their local libraries. While about one in five (22%) feel they are aware of “all or most” of the services and programs their public library offers, a plurality (46%) feel they just know of “some” of what their library offers. Another 20% say they know “not much” about services offered by their library, and 11% say they know “nothing at all” about what is available at their library.

Whites (23%) are more likely than Hispanics (16%) to say they know “all or some” of what their library offers, while Hispanics are more likely to say that they know “nothing at all”—21% say this, more than twice the rate among whites (9%) or blacks (11%). Women are also more likely to consider themselves well-informed of library services than men, and those with higher levels of education are more likely to say they’re aware of at least some services than those with less education. Respondents under the age of 30 are also less likely to say they know much about library services than older adults, particularly those ages 30-64.

One aspect mentioned very often, both in focus groups and in qualitative work from previous research, is that people wish they were more aware of the full range of services offered by their libraries. One focus group member loved her local library and rated it highly in all areas—except communication; “there’s so much good stuff going on but no one tells anybody.” Another said, “they do so many fabulous things, [but] they have horrible marketing.”

However, focus group members say that having resources and events listed on their library’s website wasn’t enough—as several participants pointed out, they probably weren’t going to go to the website to look for events (or even to sign up for email newsletters) unless they already knew that the library had those events. Instead, they said they usually stumbled across listings either at their library in-person, when trying to do something else online, or by seeing signage outside the library as they were driving past. One parent loved their library and described it as “unbelievable,” but said that she only heard about events when they were already in the library with their children, on their way to participate in another activity or event. This parent said that they often weren’t even aware of events until she heard the announcement that the event was about to start, when it was too late for her  family to change plans.

Many of the librarians in our in-person focus groups agreed that it was difficult to reach patrons and tell them about all the services the library offered. Several said that almost every day, they will be speaking with a patron who had come in for a specific service, and would mention other services or resources and hear the patron reply, “I didn’t know that was available.”

What is important for libraries to offer

We asked survey respondents about a variety of services that public libraries often provide to the public, and asked them how important, if at all, they think it is for public libraries to provide each to the community. All but one of the services are considered to be “very important” by a majority of respondents.

It was particularly striking to note now is that provision of technology ranks just as high as helpful librarians and books as central to libraries’ missions.

Programs for children and teens and research resources such as free databases are also ranked highly, as are job, employment and career resources and free activities such as classes and cultural events. Just about half (49%) of Americans think it is “very important” for libraries to provide free public meeting spaces, making it the lowest-ranked service that we asked about, although 85% of respondents say this service is “somewhat” or “very” important overall.

For almost all of the resources we asked about, blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to consider them “very important” to the community, as shown in the chart above. Women are also generally more likely than men to say these resources are “very important” (see following chart).

A more detailed examination of all these services follows below.

Librarians to help people find information they need

Overall, 80% of Americans say that it is “very important” to the community for libraries to have librarians available to help people find information they need. Some 16% consider having librarians at libraries “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 1% say it is “not at all important.”

Blacks (89%) are significantly more likely than whites (78%) to consider librarians “very important,” and women (84%) are more likely to say this than men (77%). Those living in households making less than $30,000 per year are also more likely to consider librarians very important compared to those living in households earning more than $75,000. Looking at responses based on device ownership, we find that those who own technological devices such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones are just as likely as non-users to consider librarians “very important” to the community.

Our focus groups considered librarians to be very important to libraries in general, and many had very positive memories of interactions with librarians from their childhoods. Even when they suggested automating certain services for the sake of convenience, our focus groups overwhelmingly saw a future with librarians as an integral part of libraries.

Several library staff members who participated in our online panel said that they felt patrons were not always aware of the research assistance librarians can offer. One wrote, “Often a patron will troll through the internet for hours trying to find a form or information source that I could provide them in a matter of moments.” Another librarian said that most people, including students, didn’t know about the research resources offered by the library other than books: “Most students have no idea what a database is and therefore get their information from Google, while the tremendous resources available online from our library go unknown and unused.”

Borrowing books

Overall, 80% of Americans say that it is “very important” for libraries to provide books to the community for borrowing. Another 15% consider book borrowing “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 2% say it is “not at all important.”

Women (84%) are significantly more likely than men (76%) to consider book borrowing to be “very important” to the community. Adults ages 30-64 are more likely than other age groups to say this, as are those who had at least some college experience compared with those who had not attended college.

Tablet users (84%) and e-reader users (83%) are significantly more likely than Americans who do not own these devices to consider book borrowing at libraries “very important.”

Most focus group members felt that books are essential to libraries, although a few vocal opponents disagreed.

Free access to computers and the internet

As noted in Part 3 of this report, three-quarters (77%) of Americans think it is “very important” for public libraries to provide free access to computers and the internet to the community. Another 18% consider free computer and internet access “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 2% say it is “not at all important.”

The vast majority of blacks (92%) and Hispanics (86%) consider the free access to computer and the internet that libraries provide “very important” to the community, making them significantly more than whites (72%) to say this. Additionally, women (81%) are more likely than men (73%) to consider this access “very important,” as are adults ages 30-64 (81%) compared with other age groups.

Smartphone users (82%) are significantly more likely than Americans who do not own these devices (72%) to consider free access to computers and the internet “very important.”

The librarian in our online panel overwhelmingly said that providing access to computers and the internet was an important service for libraries. “Our most popular area is the public access computers,” one library staff member wrote. “They are constantly full.” A rural librarian told us:

“As a public library in a poverty stricken rural community we provide the only link to the outside world through our computers. Our citizens do not have internet service or computers at home. Many do not have transportation and there is no public transportation which leaves many adults and children isolated. We, at the library, are working to develop a way to provide internet access and computers to everyone in our county.”

Many librarians emphasized that they see the role of a library as a place to enable access to information, regardless of the format. Several said that this focus on access is even more important in the digital age than before. “I believe public libraries should move away from being ‘houses of knowledge’ and move more towards being ‘houses of access.’” One wrote. “This is what the public is asking for and we are here to serve them.” Another librarian said:

“I believe libraries need to provide computers and Internet access for patrons who cannot afford these items or cannot purchase high speed Internet access in their home area. Many job applications, etc. are online now which widens the digital divide unless libraries provide this service.”

Quiet study spaces for adults and children

Some 76% of Americans think it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide quiet study spaces for adults and children. Another 19% consider quiet study spaces “somewhat important,” while 2% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.”

Almost nine in ten blacks (89%) and Hispanics (86%) consider libraries’ quiet study spaces to be “very important” to the community, making them significantly more than whites (71%) to say this. Additionally, women (81%) are more likely than men (70%) to consider this resource “very important,” as are Americans who have not graduated from college (78%) compared with college graduates (69%). Adults ages 50-64 are also somewhat more likely than other age groups to consider quiet study spaces “very important,” although Americans under the age of 50 are most likely to consider these areas important overall.

Those living in urban areas (81%) are also significantly more likely than those living in suburban (73%) or rural (73%) communities to say quiet study spaces are “very important.”

Some members of the focus groups were adamant about needing areas they can use that are absolutely quiet. Others also suggested separate small conference/study rooms where you can close the door to work or have meetings. One said, “I wish there a way in which you could lock off spaces because I work remotely from home and I’d love to be able to go someplace else to work to change it up.”

Programs and classes for children and teens

Almost three-quarters (74%) of Americans think it is “very important” for public libraries to provide programs and classes for children and teens. Another 21% consider these programs “somewhat important,” while 2% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.”

Some 92% of Hispanics and 86% of blacks consider these classes to be “very important” to the community, making them significantly more than whites (68%) to say this. Additionally, women (79%) are more likely than men (68%) to consider this resource “very important,” as are Americans in households making less than $75,000 per year (79%) compared with those in households earning more (65%).

Parents in our focus groups almost uniformly appreciated children’s programming at their local libraries. Some parents said that they would appreciate extended hours at libraries so their children could spend time there in a monitored environment; others wished there were more activities on weekends, instead of during the work day.

Many librarians in the online canvassing wrote about their experiences creating “hangout” spaces and activities for teens, citing importance of keeping teens engaged with the library as they grow older. “Interacting with children and young adults at their schools is an important aspect of encouraging these groups to use the library at a young age,” one wrote. “These groups may be more likely to use the library as adults if they are comfortable there as children.”

Finally, keeping these spaces apart from the main reading room areas of the library seemed to be an important point for many of our focus group members, as many of them complained about increased noise levels during our sessions.

Research resources such as free databases

Some 73% of Americans say it is “very important” for public libraries to provide research resources such as free databases to the community. One in five (20%) consider these resources “somewhat important,” while 2% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.”

Blacks (84%) and Hispanics (85%) are significantly more likely than whites (69%) to say that these research resources are “very important” to the community, and women (78%) are more likely than men (68%) to say this. Those under the age of 65 are more likely than older adults to think these resources are important to the community. Americans living in urban areas (79%) are also significantly more likely than those living in suburban areas (69%) to say research resources are “very important.”

Computer users and smartphone users are just as likely as people who do not own these devices to think it is “very important” for libraries to provide research resources; however, tablet users (67%) are significantly less likely than non-users (75%) to consider these research resources “very important.”

“My experience is that we are busy, people want us more hours, but they are largely unaware of our online resources,” one library staff member in our online panel wrote. “When you share the information with them (eBooks, databases, online classes) they are excited, but unless we tell them in person they (mostly) do not know about them.”

The level of patron interest in databases seemed to vary based on the interests and needs of its patrons. Another library staff member wrote that while e-books and other digital resources were very popular with patrons, “on-line databases such as Mango and ancestry.com have not elicited much of a response at all.”

Job, employment and career resources

Some 67% of Americans think it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide job, employment and career resources. Another 22% consider these resources “somewhat important,” while 5% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.”

About eight in ten blacks (83%) and Hispanics (81%) consider libraries’ career resources to be “very important” to the community, compared with about six in ten whites (61%), and women (73%) are more likely than men (60%) to say this. Those who had not completed college and those living in lower-income households are also generally more likely to say these resources are “very important.” Additionally, Americans under the age of 65 are most likely to consider these resources important overall compared with those ages 65 and older.

Those living in urban areas (71%) are also significantly more likely than those living in suburban areas (64%) to say employment-related resources are “very important.” Finally, people who have computers, tablets, or smartphones are less likely than those who do not own these devices to consider job resources at libraries to be “very important.”

In our focus groups, awareness and use of career-related resources seems to vary widely by library, as well as by city. A few focus group members said that they relied heavily on these services in their job searches; other focus group members weren’t aware of these services at all.

Library staff members in our online panel often emphasized the importance of employment-related resources, especially for patrons who are less comfortable with technology or lack resources at home. “There are large parts of this community that have less than 20% of the population with computers at home. We have job seekers that leave the library phone as their contact,” one librarian wrote. Another said: “Many of our town residents/patrons have no internet access and, some who do, are still using a dial-up network. Offering internet access for e-mail, job searching, and personal research are a vital component to the services we provide.”

Many librarians said they felt that offering computers and other resources for job-seekers was increasingly important as technology became more vital to the job search process. “Libraries need to be able to meet the needs of the patron,” one librarian wrote, and “[in] this day and age the patron needs have become more focused on technology. This means that they may not have the ability to acquire the knowledge needed to apply for a job, write a résumé, use a computer, use applications on a computer or just use a device that they might need to help them in different areas of their life.”

Free events and activities, such as classes and cultural events, for people of all ages

Over six in ten Americans (63%) say it is “very important” for public libraries to provide free events and activities, such as classes and cultural events, for people of all ages. Three in ten (30%) consider these activities “somewhat important,” while 4% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.”

Some 84% of blacks and 79% of Hispanics consider these events to be “very important” to the community, compared with 57% of whites. Women (71%) are also more likely than men (56%) to say this, as are those who had not completed college (67%) compared with college graduates (53%). Those living in lower-income households are also somewhat more likely to consider these activities important compared with those in higher-income households. Americans living in urban areas (71%) are also significantly more likely than those living in suburban areas (59%) to say research resources are “very important.”

Members of our focus groups appreciated the free activities offered by their local libraries—when they were aware of them. One participant valued these activities as “something that will bring you out of your house and meet your neighbors and say, ‘Hi.’” The main issue many of them cited was simply finding out about these activities in the first place. Many focus group members mentioned stumbling across a list of activities as their library only by accident, when they were on the website for another purpose.

The librarians in our online panel often said that they considered free community activities very important to the library’s core mission. “The library’s role in the community is shifting to that of a storage facility to a community center,” one wrote. Many said that they enjoyed partnering with other local institutions and organizations to expand the types of activities they could offer.

Many library staff members said that activities for young children and families were a core offering of their libraries. “We consistently bring in nice sized crowds for all of our storytimes, and our other afterschool programs and holiday activities also are well received,” one wrote. “We have also brought in local artists to display their works and the exhibits are always widely liked by the staff and our patrons.”

Free public meeting spaces

About half (49%) of Americans say it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide free public meeting spaces. Another 36% consider this “somewhat important,” while 9% say this is “not too important” and 4% say it is “not at all important.”

Blacks (61%) and Hispanics (58%) are more likely than whites (46%) to consider free public meeting spaces at libraries to be “very important” to the community, and women (55%) are more likely than men (44%) to say this. Americans who have not graduated from college (53%) are also more likely to consider this “very important” compared with college graduates (41%).

Focus group members who were involved with local organizations or more casual groups often mentioned the importance of libraries for public meeting spaces. Many librarians in our online panel whose libraries offered these meeting spaces also mentioned their popularity. “Our community loves the meeting rooms. We are booked for months in advance with the larger rooms and our ‘as available’ small study rooms are always full,” one library staff member wrote. “We just wish we had more of them!”

Public priorities for libraries

We also asked our national survey respondents, as well as our focus groups, about some different ways public libraries could change the way they serve the public, and whether or not they thought public libraries should implement these changes (if they do not offer these services already). In a separate, qualitative questionnaire aimed at public library staff members, we also asked librarians and other library workers their thoughts on these services.

In general, Americans are most adamant that libraries should devote resources to services for children; over eight in ten Americans say that libraries should “definitely” coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to kids (85%), and a similar number (82%) strongly support libraries offering free early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school. The services about which our national survey respondents are more ambivalent involved moving library services online and automating services (such as installing self-checkout stations). The least popular idea was moving some print books out of public locations to free up more space for things such as tech centers, reading rooms, meetings rooms, and cultural events; just one-fifth of respondents say libraries should “definitely” do this, while almost four in ten (39%) say libraries should “maybe” do this and almost as many (36%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Younger Americans were more often in favor of these ideas than older adults, including having more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing, offering more interactive learning exhibits, offering free early literacy programs, coordinating more with local schools, and moving most services online. Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to support having more comfortable spaces and having separate areas for different activities, as well as moving print stacks out of public areas, offering interactive learning experiences and helping digitize patrons’ materials. Finally, those living in lower-income households were more likely than those in higher-income households to support moving print stacks out of public areas, offering interactive learning experiences, and helping digitize patrons’ materials.

When we asked the library staff members in our online panel for their thoughts on these services and programs, many said that their library had either already implemented or should definitely implement many of them in the future. The programs that were most popular with these librarians were: having separate locations for different activities, offering free early literacy programs, coordinating with local schools, and having comfortable spaces for reading, working, or relaxing at the library. Many also said that they were eager to offer a broader selection of e-books for check-out.

Some of the resources garnered more lukewarm support; most librarians said they do not currently offer interactive learning experiences or resources for digitizing patrons’ own materials, but many said only that their libraries should “maybe” offer them in the future. Our library staff respondents were also ambivalent about moving most library services online and making most services automated. The least popular idea overall was moving print books out of public locations to free up space for other activities.

The following subsections explore librarians’ responses in further detail, but many described the various factors they take into account when thinking about what services they should offer, such as the specific needs of the communities they serve, budgets and staff time, and staff members’ experience with new technologies. While each response was unique, the following quote from a library staff member touches on many of the issues that librarians said they consider:

“We attempt to meet the needs of our community. Due to the fact that the needs of the community are very diverse, our services are also diverse. We have made room for many activities at the library such as tutoring, meetings, family gatherings such as wedding showers, study space or just a space to hang out. We have also become mindful of different learning styles and now offer hands-on learners interactive exhibits and developmentally disabled individuals a special needs storytime. We offer equipment to help with digitizing materials but do not have enough staff to help everyone with their project, although when time allows we do often get pulled into the process and help to get people started. … Print books are still very popular with older patrons and those who are financially challenged. Electronic materials are certainly a great addition to our collection but, because not everyone has internet access at home or can afford to buy an e-reader or tablet computer, we cannot abandon the print materials. Again, we serve a diverse community.”

Here is a more detailed analysis of the different services different groups would like to see implemented at libraries.

Coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to kids

Overall, 85% of respondents say that libraries should “definitely” coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to kids. Some 11% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 2% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Americans ages 16-64 are significantly more likely than older adults to express strong support for this idea, as are those who live in urban or suburban areas compared with those living in rural areas.

Focus group members were very much in support of this idea. Many said that they would love to see libraries offer resources such as homework help and tutoring, as well as afterschool study programs. Some participants said that they wished their library had enough copies of the books assigned to their children as readings in class, especially when the school library only has a few copies that are quickly checked out.

Most of the librarians in our online panel either said that their library was already doing this, or should definitely do this in the future. “I think libraries should work very closely with area schools in an effort to enable kids to successfully complete their homework and research projects,” a library staff member wrote. “I am aware that some libraries already have collaborative relationships established with their school districts. I would very much like to do that with my local school district.”

However, many said that doing so was often complicated, as one librarian pointed out: “Coordinating with schools is a two-way street that takes time and persistence to build.” Another wrote:

“Although we should definitely work more closely with our public schools, it’s virtually impossible as their jammed schedules leave almost no time for outside agencies to work in the schools. I think our niche is the early literacy market from birth to Kindergarten—whether it’s working with individual families, daycares, or preschools. One branch [in our system] has been most successful by taking storytimes to daycares and working with the youngest populations. The result has been that the older children now come to storytime at the library as they can walk to and from the event.”

Offer free early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school

Another popular service was free early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school, which 82% of respondents say that libraries should “definitely” offer. Another 14% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 3% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Adults ages 65 and older are significantly less likely than younger Americans to say that libraries should “definitely” do this, with 69% of this oldest age group expressing strong support (compared with more than eight in ten younger respondents). Those who had not completed high school are also generally more likely to express strong support for this idea. Finally, those who live in urban areas are significantly more likely to say that libraries should “definitely” do this than those in suburban or rural areas.

Many librarians in our online panel said that their libraries already offer early literacy programs and considered them a core part of their library’s mission. “Libraries have been, and always been, important to childhood literacy/education,” one wrote, adding that “they need to expand traditional storytimes to incorporate interactive learning experiences, virtual experiences for kids and teens.”

However, the librarians whose libraries who do not currently offer early literacy programs were sometimes unsure as to whether this was a service they should clearly offer. “Although I think libraries should work with schools and early literacy programs, I think there should be specially trained individuals in those roles,” another library staff member wrote.

Have completely separate locations or spaces for different services

A majority (61%) of Americans say that libraries should “definitely” have completely separate locations or spaces for different services, such as children’s services, computer labs, reading spaces, and meeting rooms. Some 27% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 9% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

There are few differences between different demographic groups in support for this idea, although blacks and Hispanics are more likely to express strong support for this idea than whites.

A common sentiment in the focus groups was the need to keep children’s areas, teen hangout spaces, and computer-centric areas separate from the main reading or lounge areas, to keep noise levels and other distractions down to a minimum. Many librarians in our online panel agreed, “When possible I think that it works well to keep the computer, group meeting, and children’s area noise away from the quieter reading areas,” one said. “Staff and [patrons] both seem to appreciate this.”

Others have seen drastic changes: “We moved our teen library away from our adult patrons and it has made a world of difference. The teens behavior has gotten so much better we no longer need a security guard at the library.”

Many of the library staff members in our online panel said that their libraries already have separate locations for different services, although those who do not currently offer it were split on whether their library should definitely do this or should only “maybe” do this. Those who said their library was less likely to do this often cited issues of space, or funding; one pointed out that “in small libraries, often operated by a single staff member, separate spaces cannot be for reasons of security or even customer service.”

Have more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing at the library

More than half (59%) of Americans say that libraries should “definitely” create more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing at the library. Some 28% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 9% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Women are significantly more likely than men to express strong support for this idea, and blacks and Hispanics are more likely to express strong support than whites. This idea was also more popular with those under age 50 than with older adults.

In our focus groups, we asked participants to think about what their ideal library would look like. Many participants said that while they wanted a quiet space in the library, they wanted one that’s not too quiet. They described having a comfortable place where they could focus and get work done, but also feel like a part of their community; where “even if you’re by yourself, you don’t feel like you’re by yourself,” as one participant put it. Many described a sort of “coffeeshop” feel or “living room atmosphere,” but without feeling like they need to buy anything or leave in a certain amount of time—“a safe and affordable hangout location,” where they could mingle with other people if they wanted to, but can do their own thing if not. (One focus group member said a library should be “like home room for your community.”)

This idea was very popular with the librarians in our online panel, with most saying either that their library should definitely do this in the future, or that it was already doing this:

“Sometimes people just need a place to go to escape from their hectic lives. What if we could melt together Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Redbox, and the gym together? A place where the majority of the population could say they use on a weekly, if not daily, basis.”

“I also think libraries should be less institutional and more inviting and comfortable,” one wrote. “Introducing a variety of reading and studying seating options acknowledges that one style doesn’t suit everyone,” another added.

Offer a broader selection of e-books

About half of Americans (53%) say that libraries should “definitely” offer a broader selection of e-books. Some 30% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 5% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Recent reports by Pew Internet have examined some of the issues involved in e-book adoption at libraries, and have found that most Americans (57%) are unaware if their library lends out e-books or not; among recent library users, 5% borrow e-books.1

In the past year, the percentage of Americans who read e-books increased from 16% of all those ages 16 and older to 23% as of November 2012. Among these e-book borrowers, the most common complaints as of December 2011 are a lack of titles (56% of e-book borrowers say they have encountered this) and long waiting lists (52%).2

This idea was significantly more popular with adults ages 18-64 compared with those 65 and older, and those with at least some college experience are generally more likely to express strong support for this idea than those who had not attended college.

Technology users in general are more likely than those who do not own various devices to say that libraries should “definitely” expand their e-book selections. Some 68% of e-reader owners expressed strong support for this idea, compared with 50% of non-owners; tablet owners (63%), smartphone users (62%), and those who own a desktop or laptop computer (55%) are also more likely to say libraries should do this.

Many librarians in our online panel said that their library should definitely offer a broader selection of e-books. They often cited a lack of funds and restrictions from publishersas their main impediments, and the balance of trying to provide e-books for their tech-savvy patrons while still providing print and audiobooks for those who prefer print.

Offer more interactive learning experiences similar to museum exhibits

Overall, 47% of Americans say that libraries should “definitely” offer more interactive learning experiences similar to museum exhibits. Some 38% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 12% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

This idea was significantly more popular with blacks (66%) and Hispanics (62%) than with whites (40%), and those under age 50 are more likely to express strong support than older adults. Interactive learning experiences are significantly more popular with those who had not completed college compared with college graduates, as well as with those in lower-income households compared with those at higher income levels. Finally, those who live in urban areas are significantly more likely to express strong support for this idea than those in suburban or rural areas.

Few of the librarians in our online panel said that their library already offered interactive learning experiences, and the rest were lukewarm on whether they should in the future. Many were intrigued by the idea, but said that a lack of space and resources were the main reasons they don’t currently offer interactive exhibits. “We don’t have the space or time to produce interactive learning experiences in our library, though in the future they may be a way to draw people into the building,” one wrote.

Ultimately, there was no clear consensus from out online panel. Some felt that expanding the offerings of the library was a vital innovation for the future. “Interactive experiences are key for libraries moving forward,” one librarian wrote. “We need to provide opportunities for the community to gather and interact. We also need to meet patrons where they are – online or in the community. Embedding with community groups is crucial to sharing information about library resources and to collaborate on programs that benefit the community.”

Others felt that interactive exhibits were the province of museums, not libraries—although some felt that a partnership might be worthwhile: “I think rather than always offering the interactive learning experiences and programs, libraries could do a better job partnering with groups offering services in the communities. Be a presence outside of the library. “

However, some library staff weren’t convinced that interactives had a place at the library. “I was torn about the interactive experiences,” another library staff member said. “In some ways that sounds nice, but I’m not really sure how that would work out in reality. I think it is important that libraries be an oasis for quiet thought.”Another librarian was more blunt: “Interactive exhibits would be counter-productive to the quiet atmosphere for which we strive.”

Help users digitize material such as family photos or historical documents

Some 43% of Americans think that libraries should “definitely” help patrons digitize material such as family photos or historical documents. Some 39% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 14% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

This idea was also more popular with blacks (56%) and Hispanics (62%) compared with whites (39%). Adults ages 30-64 are also more likely to express strong support for this idea than adults over the age of 65. Finally, this idea was significantly more popular with those who had not completed college compared with college graduates, as well as with those in lower-income households compared with those at higher income levels.

Many library staff members in our online panel said that their library should “maybe” do this, but had no strong feelings. Along with offering more museum-like interactive learning experiences, this potential service had the fewest number of librarians saying that their library already offers this. One of the main concerns was that library staff would have to spend a significant portion of their time helping patrons use the hardware—at a time when many librarians already say that they are spending much of their time helping patrons with other “tech support”-type questions. One librarian wrote, “While I think that helping patrons digitize materials might be an interesting idea, I think that it would eat up valuable time for librarians and other staff. I think a class TEACHING these skills might work out better than just providing scanners and assuming patrons know how to use them, or helping patrons use them individually. If we added scanners, I am pretty sure that most of my day would be helping patrons with that one thing.”

Move most library services online so users can access them without having to visit the library

About four in ten Americans (42%) say that libraries should “definitely” move most library services online so users can access them without having to visit the library. Another 34% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and almost one in five (19%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Looking at respondents by community type, we find that those living in urban areas (52%) are most likely to say that libraries should “definitely” do this, significantly more likely than those living in suburban areas (40%), while those living in rural areas (31%) are the least likely to say this. Additionally, Hispanics (58%) are significantly more likely than whites (38%) to express a strong preference for this idea.

Focus group members had mixed thoughts on this idea. On the one hand, many said that they would like to be able to do more online, or have more self-service options in the library. On the other hand, many participants also said that they really missed the personal connection they had with librarians when they are children, and wished they had that sort of relationship with their library now—that their librarians knew them well enough to recommend books, library services, or other resources to them, based on their interests and family needs. One focus group member said that she “always” asks her librarians for book recommendations:

[My daughter’s] really into pirates right now or whatever … I don’t have time to look around. I got two screaming kids. [Laughter] [I say] “Help me find something quick” and they can always think of something.

Another focus groups member said that she found it easier to reserve books online because she has difficulty finding them in the library otherwise: “I just go online and I reserve [the book] and then I just pick it up. If I have to go inside and do the Dewey Decimal System or whatever, the card numbers—it’s so frustrating.”

Overall, some focus group participants saw the library as a destination (a place to take the family for an afternoon, for instance), and others see it as a resource (a place to get books and other items). Others said that their library used changed throughout the year, or at different points in their lives—they might like to spend hours there in the summer, when the kids are out of school, but may be busier during the school year and only able to stop by to pick up and drop off books.

These thoughts were echoed by members of our librarian panel, who were generally ambivalent about the prospect of moving most library services online. “I do not think it is critical to move everything online,” one said. “Most people come to the library because they want to be in the physical location. They may access some things online. But many of our patrons enjoy the experience of coming to the library for programs and social interaction.”

Another librarian pointed out that “moving most services online would not serve people who 1) do not have easy access to a computer or the Internet, 2) need assistance using particular services, 3) like to interact with library staff on a regular basis. We are not just service centers, we are also community centers.”

Make most services automated

About four in ten Americans (41%) say that libraries should “definitely” make most services automated, so people can find what they need and check out material on their own without help from staff. Some 36% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and one in five (20%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this. Those with no family/childhood library experience are significantly more likely to say that libraries should definitely do this (51% vs. 37%).

Again, many of the members of our online librarian panel did not generally view automating most services as a useful path. One library staff member wrote:

“We have discussed automated check out with our patrons, and they have a fierce dislike of the idea. Not because they fear technology—they are very literate and up to date on all things electronic—but because they cherish the interaction with a real live person at the desk and they love being greeted by name. One patron said ‘I am so tired of being anonymous everywhere else… here I feel welcome and wanted every time I come in the door.’ We don’t want to lose that personal connection with our patrons!”

“Automated services means worse services,” another librarian wrote, and echoed the issues cited by members of our in-person patron focus groups: “If we are not there to chat as books get checked in or out, we miss an opportunity to give patrons information they might not know, to recommend books (etc.) based on what they are reading, to answer questions as they naturally arise during conversation.”

Yet while few (if any) of the librarians felt that most services should be automated, some staff members whose libraries had already implemented some automated services found that they served as a useful option for busier patrons. One noted that families with small children in particular appreciated of the self-checkout option: “The children feel a sense of accomplishment when they do their own books through the scanner. Older patrons, however, like the personal service provided at the circulation desk by our clerks.”

Some librarians noted that for patrons, it was often a matter of preference. “It’s important to have both [self check-out and staff assistance], providing people service at the level they choose,” one wrote. Another librarian felt that more resistance had some from the staff than patrons:

“We offer self-checkout and an automated payment center. People (like me) who prefer to pump their own gas love the self-service kiosks. Even though I explained to staff that self-checkout is primarily a privacy option for users, and that no staff cuts are planned, some are reluctant to encourage use of the kiosks, even when people are lined up waiting for service.”

Others found that while self-service options can be helpful, automated systems can bring their own headaches:

“Our library has self checkout machines at each location and the staff and public have a love-hate relationship with them for a variety of reasons (e.g. they break down, problems with patron’s cards send them to the circulation desk, etc.). We encourage their use and there are still lines at the checkout desks.”

Ultimately, this issue seems to depend heavily on the wants and needs of the library’s community, as another librarian discussed:

“Our community is heavily weighted toward retirees who are struggling with the new technologies. Over 50% of our children in our schools qualify for free and reduced lunch, so assuming that they have access to the Internet at home is not a good idea. We would be doing a great disservice to our library users if we fully automated or provided most of our materials online. As our digital natives age then it would make sense to provide services in formats that are usable by them.”

The main goal that many librarians in our online panel expressed is simply to balance the needs of busy patrons with the personal connection they want from their library:

“We have added self-check stations, and the patrons love them. We offer remote access to some materials, and both staff and patrons love the convenience. We are in the process of launching a major e-books collection, and the patrons are clamoring for it. That said, we find that patrons continue to see our library as destination, and they seek out our staff because of the service we offer and deliver. They tell us that themselves, and the traffic in our library confirms it.”

Move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space

Just one in five Americans (20%) say that libraries should “definitely” move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for things such as tech centers, reading rooms, meetings rooms, and cultural events. Meanwhile, almost four in ten (39%) say libraries should “maybe” do this, and almost as many (36%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

People who do not own a desktop or laptop computer are significantly more likely than those who down own a home computer to say that this is something libraries should “definitely” do (27% vs. 19%), while computer owners are more likely to say that this is something libraries should “definitely not” do (38% vs. 26%).

The librarians in our online panel expressed the least amount of support for this idea overall, and many said that their library was very unlikely to do this. Others whose libraries had tried to move books out the main areas had encountered mixed results. One librarian wrote:

“We’ve gotten rid of a large part of our print collection to make room for a middle school teen area which has caused consternation among both staff (who are now babysitters) and adult patrons (many of whom are avoiding us because of the noise and constant interaction between teens and police). We installed a coffee machine which (after many spills on both the carpeting and keyboards) was finally removed. We purchased video games and within one month, 80% were stolen. In sum, staff is stressed and patrons complain about the lack of print materials and quiet study space.”

Others encountered strong pushback from their patrons:

“The community was in an uproar about moving stacks out of public locations because they were not consulted, and it was not communicated to them that the technology that would allow them to continue to ‘browse’ the shelves electronically and quickly and easily request retrieval of materials.”

But other library staff members said their libraries were very successful in freeing up space for other services. “We have removed an area of stacks to make a place for a teen lounge,” one librarian wrote. “Everyone thinks it is a great idea.” Another said:

“We have removed most of our print reference collections to make room for seating and display space without receiving a single complaint from the public. I think some of the staff were originally skeptical but are on board now. We don’t have space to waste on things people don’t use. It’s not about us—it’s about the community.”

The new services people say they would (or would not) use

In addition to asking people for their preferences on some new library services, we also asked respondents whether they would themselves use a variety of possible new activities and features at libraries. Our list was weighted towards services that are rooted in technology and allow more tech-related interactions with libraries and at them.

The results were mixed in several senses. There was no overwhelming public clamor for any of the activities. Still, there was fairly consistent interest in them and there was a notable segment of population – a quarter or more of respondents – who said they would definitely use each of the activities we queried and most times more than half the public said it was at least somewhat likely to take advantage of these new services. Many of those who responded to this battery of questions picked different types of services that they would prefer – in other words, there was only modest share of respondents who said they would “very likely” use each and every one of the news services that we queried.

Americans' interest in new library services

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Overall, blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to be interested in all of the services we asked about. Older adults, especially those ages 65 and older, are the least likely age group to express an interest in any of these services. Respondents with the lowest levels of education and living in households making less than $30,000 per year are also often more likely to express a strong interest in these services than more educated respondents or those living in higher-income households. Looking at differences in responses by community type, we find that urban residents expressed more interest in many services, such as library kiosks, digital media labs and library-related cell phone apps, than suburban and rural residents.

Additionally, those who say they know the least about the services at their local library were as likely as those who say they know the most to say they would be “very likely” to use many of these resources, including classes on e-borrowing, digital media labs, an online research service, and the device try-out program.

When we asked the library staff members in our online panel about these services, and 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. In fact, many librarians said that their libraries were already offering these resources in various forms, due to demand from their communities. However, our librarian panel had mixed views on cell phone apps that would allow patrons to access library resources, a gadget “petting zoo” that would allow patrons to try out new devices, and pre-loaded e-readers that would be available for check-out. The main issue with all three of these potential services was having the cost and resources required to not only launch these initiatives, but keep them sufficiently up-to-date. There were also worries that pre-loaded e-readers available for check-out could be broken or stolen. The librarians also had mixed thoughts about offering personalized online accounts that could generate reading recommendations based on a patrons’ previous activity, generally due to the privacy issues that such a service could raise.

Our librarian panel was most ambivalent about offering a cell phone app with GPS and library kiosks located around the community, with both seen as expensive and irrelevant for all but the largest libraries or communities. Digital media labs were the least popular potential service that we asked about; few already had these at their libraries, and while many librarians said they might be interested in offering these labs, they also foresaw issues such as the high costs of technological resources, a lack of staff time or expertise, and a lack of interest in their communities.

Ultimately, as one library staff member wrote in our online panel, “every library is different and what works some places doesn’t work others.”

An online research service where you could pose questions and get responses from librarians

Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents say they would be interested in an “Ask a Librarian” online research service, where they could pose questions and get responses from librarians; some 37% say they would be “very likely” to use this type of resource.

Some 87% of blacks and 88% of Hispanics expressed an interest in this resource, compared with 67% of whites, and over half of blacks and Hispanics say they would be “very likely” to use an online research service. At least three-quarters of Americans under age 65 expressed an interest in this resource, compared with 55% of those ages 65 and older.

Additionally, smartphone owners are more likely than non-owners to express an interest in this service overall; some 79% of smartphone users say they would be “likely” or “very likely” to use this service, compared with 68% of non-owners.

It seemed as though the libraries in our online panel either already offered this service (about half of the librarians said this), or were unlikely to do so in the future. The response from those who have already implemented this type of service was generally positive:

“People love our Ask a Librarian service and our one on one appointments. We only have a few minutes to spend with people in the call center or on the service floor, so when they need help with e-books or research, we set them up with a librarian with good skills in that area for up to an hour. They really get their questions answered that way.”

However, others had more mixed experiences. “We used to participate in an 24/7 [online research] program,” one librarian wrote. “At first it was at no charge to us, then we were charged a relatively high fee, and then we dropped out. Very few of our patrons were taking advantage of it—not a good use of our scarce funds.” Another librarian also had less-than-positive experiences with the service:  “It seemed to be used more by pranksters, than patrons, mundane questions such as library hours, late fees, information readily available on our webpage. It’s been discontinued.”

For other libraries, it was simply a matter of staff time: “The online research with live librarians seems unlikely for our system because I don’t think we have the staff and availability to guarantee that a librarian would always be available at a station to immediately respond to online live queries.”

A program that allowed people to try out the newest tech devices or applications

Overall, 69% of respondents say they would be interested in a “technology petting zoo” program that allowed people to try out the newest tech devices or applications; some 35% say they would be “very likely” to use such a service.

Over half of blacks (51%) and Hispanics (58%) expressed a strong interest in this resource, compared with 28% of whites. Urban residents (39%) are more likely than rural (29%) residents to express a strong interest in this service. Americans under age 65 are also more likely than those 65 and older to say they would be likely to use such a resource.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans who already own gadgets such as tablets and smartphones are significantly more likely than those who do not own these devices to indicate a strong interest in this service. Some 41% of tablet owners say they would be “very likely” to use this service (vs. 33% of non-owners), as did 39% of smartphone owners (vs. 32% of non-owners).

Many of the librarians in our online panel said that their libraries already offered opportunities for patrons to try out new devices, and that the try-out programs had been well-received overall. “We have held “petting zoos” for new technology, particularly for e-readers and tablets,” one wrote. “They are well-attended but it is a struggle to keep up with the absolute latest offerings.” Another said:

“Staff and patrons were grateful for ‘petting zoo’ programs with e-readers and tablets. It helped patrons decide which device, if any, they wanted to purchase. Both patrons and staff were grateful to handle the devices our patrons use, so we can be more helpful when patrons ask about them.”

Another librarian said that the program was popular, but the devices would soon be out-of-date: “It’s expensive to stay up with all of the new gadgets, so I see us transitioning this program—perhaps to more of a crowdsourced technology petting zoo where community members are invited to bring in their devices and share with each other.”

Many of the librarians who said their libraries did not offer this service were not sure that they would be able to offer it in the near future. “It would be great to offer a ‘petting zoo’ for new devices or apps, but small rural branch libraries do not have the staffing to make it work,” one librarian said. Another library staff member said that a tech try-out program would not be a prudent use of the library’s funds: “A program that allowed patrons to try out the newest tech devices or applications is unlikely, for budgetary reasons, and because not all tech is library related.”

Personalized online accounts that give you customized recommendations for books and services based on your past library activity

Overall, 64% of respondents say they would be interested in personalized online accounts that provide customized recommendations for books and services based on their past library activity, similar to the recommendations offered by commercial sites like Amazon; some 29% say they would be “very likely” to use a service with customized book recommendations.

In general, blacks (73%) and Hispanics (77%) are both significantly more likely than whites (58%) to express interest in this service, and Americans under age 65 are also more likely than those 65 and over to be interested. Women (68%) are significantly more likely than men (59%) to express interest in this service. Urban residents (30%) and suburban residents (31%) are also significantly more likely than rural residents (20%) to say they would be “very likely” to use this resource.

Americans who use technological devices (including cell phones or computers) are more likely than those who do not own these devices to express a strong interest in this resource, including 37% of e-reader owners, 35% of tablet owners, and 34% of smartphone owners.

Many focus group members were very enthusiastic about the idea of personalized book recommendations, and idea that had also been frequently mentioned by e-book borrowers from a previous online panel. However, many of the librarians who answered our online questionnaire expressed hesitance due to privacy issues. “Personalized accounts sound great but the idea of tracking patrons use and having that data on file seems like an invasion of privacy in many ways,” one library staff member wrote. Another agreed: “We are never going to offer customized recommendations based on past library activity because we don’t keep that information. It’s a major breach of privacy.”

One way that some libraries have tried in order offer this service is with a voluntary, opt-in system. Some librarians reported success with these services, while others were considering trying them:

“Customized recommendations also mean retaining records of what patrons have checked out in the past, which we do not currently do because of privacy issues.  We are heading towards a system where patrons can ‘opt in’ to have their borrowing record available, but the default will still be to not retain.”

Some libraries also use more general lists of recommendations that they send out to patrons via email or post on their websites. One wrote, “We have ‘personalized accounts’ and would like to expand to specific reading suggestions. For now we use the web page to try to get the word out on good new reads.”

Yet for many of the librarians in our online panel, the best solution for now is to use external sites and third-party book communities that are not connected to patrons’ library records. Library staff members mentioned directing patrons to sites such as Goodreads, BookPsychic, or NoveList Plus. “Our patrons can use Destiny Quest to make recommendations to each other and receive recommendations based on their check-out history,” one librarian wrote, but noted that “very few patrons make use of this service. Most don’t know it is available.”

A cell phone app that allows you to access and use library services from your phone and see what programs the library offers

Overall, 63% of respondents say they would be likely to use library a cell phone app that would allow them to access and use library services from their phone; some 35% say they would be “very likely” to use such an app, including 45% of smartphone owners and 41% of tablet owners.

Some 57% of blacks say they would be “very likely” to use a library app, significantly more than Hispanics (43%) or whites (29%); overall, about three-quarters of blacks and Hispanics are interested in using a library app, compared with 58% of whites. Urban residents (42%) are significantly more likely than suburban residents (34%) to say they would be “very likely” to use this service, while rural residents (25%) are the least likely to say this. Respondents under age 50 are also more likely than older adults to be interested in an app.

While some of the librarian in our online panel said that their libraries already offered an app for patrons, others said they were unsure as to whether their library would have the resources to create one.

For the libraries that already have an app, many of the responses from patrons were extremely positive. One librarian wrote, “Our library app has been out for two months and it’s received rave reviews from the public.” Another said, “The implementation of a cell phone app has generated a great positive response. Those who already rely on cell phones for everything love it.”

Other librarians said that their libraries’ apps were not always so well-received by patrons, especially those who were not entirely comfortable with newer technologies:

“Our ILS recently upgraded and has an app so patrons can browse the catalog on their mobile devices, but the app is a bit cumbersome and I don’t see many people using it until the bugs are gone. Moreover, this community is more apt to remember glitches than successes so are resistant to technology.”

As with many other library services, some librarians found that the difficult part was simply getting the word out to the public that the app existed. “A patron asked that we develop the app for her cell phone to access our system,” one wrote. “I was delighted to tell her that it was already available, and then gave her the information on downloading it. However, most of our patrons do not know that this app is available.”

Library kiosks located throughout the community where people can check out books, movies or music without having to go to the library itself

Overall, 63% of respondents say they would be likely to use library kiosks located throughout the community where people can check out books, movies or music, similar to Redbox’s DVD rental service; some 33% say they would be “very likely” to use such kiosks.

Blacks (46%) and Hispanics (43%) are significantly more likely than whites (29%) to say that they would be “very likely” to use remote kiosks. Urban residents (43%) are significantly more than suburban residents (29%) and rural residents (25%) to say they would be “very likely” to use library kiosks. Respondents under age 50 are also significantly more likely than older adults to express strong interest. There are no clear patterns by household income or level of education.

Few of the library staff members in our online panel said that their library currently offered this, and most said they were not particularly likely to offer this resource in the future. Many said that kiosks were not relevant to their community. “Our library is least likely to have kiosks throughout our community,” one wrote. “This is because the smaller size of our city and our county does not necessarily need this based on the locations of already existing libraries and branches.” Another wrote:

“Library kiosks are expensive, and they require a time commitment to maintain them. We don’t have the budget or the personnel to implement them. Also, I don’t know where we would put them—the only place I can think of that’s a common enough destination is the supermarket, and I don’t think they have the space there. Add all that to the fact that I’ve never heard of any patron interest in such a program, and I highly doubt it’s something we’ll ever start.”

Some librarians said their libraries had tried kiosks, with some positive results. “We have several library kiosks with computers only,” one said. “This allows people to put holds on books to be delivered by bookmobile or to be mailed. It also gives the people access to our databases and to the internet.” However, another said that their library’s kiosk “has been plagued with problems, both software bugs and physical malfunctions, to the point where it is unusable to much of the public.”

Finally, other librarians expressed interest in kiosks, especially for their busier patrons. “Self check-out kiosks are something we are very interested in trying, as many patrons have indicated that they don’t need or want staff interaction, or who may be in a hurry,” one librarian told us. Ultimately, however, many said that they simply lacked the funds:

“While I like the idea of library kiosks, it’s really a matter of resources and priorities. If I could get a well-funded multi-year grant to fund such a thing, I’d do it, but I don’t see that happening. I feel like I’ll have more long-term success investing in the building at this point.”

A cell phone app that helps you locate material within the library by guiding you with GPS

Overall, 62% of respondents say they would be interested in a GPS-driven cell phone app that helps patrons easily locate material within the library; some 34% say they would be “very likely” to take this type of class, including 45% of smartphone owners and 41% of tablet owners.

Blacks (43%) and Hispanics (55%) are more likely to express strong interest in a location-drive app than whites (28%), and respondents under the age of 50 are more likely than older adults to express a strong interest as well. Urban residents (40%) and suburban residents (33%) are also significantly more than rural residents (24%) to say they would be “very likely” to use this service.

Many members of our focus groups said they often had trouble finding their way around, and wished they had a way to avoid getting lost in their libraries. However, the librarians in our online panel said that a GPS-based library app was unlikely to be a solution. “The library is too small, and there is trouble getting both wireless and cell signals throughout the entire building,” one explained. “Trying to use GPS would just be more confusing then helpful for many people.” Many of the librarians felt that their library was simply too small for a GPS app to be useful; “we simply don’t have a large enough facility for that to be a concern, and even in a new, larger building, I don’t see it being an issue,” another said.

One librarian was in favor of general wandering: “Sometimes, I think we are looking at technology as panacea for everything…is a GPS in the actual library necessary? Can’t there be value in wondering around or even in being lost in a library?”

E-book readers already loaded with the book you want to read

Overall, 58% of respondents say they would be likely to check out pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered them; some 26% say they would be “very likely” to take advantage of this service.

About four in ten blacks and Hispanics say they would be “very” likely to check out pre-loaded e-readers, compared with one in five whites. Americans who had not completed high school and those living in households making less than $30,000 per year are also more likely than other groups to express a strong interest in this service. Respondents ages 65 and older are the least likely to be interested in service—just about four in ten say they would be likely to use pre-loaded e-readers, overall; meanwhile, previous research has shown that Americans ages 16-17 who don’t already borrow e-books are significantly more likely than older non-borrowers to be interested in this service, although the sample size was too small in this survey to report those numbers for the general population.

Interestingly, people who already own e-readers (29%) are just as likely as non-owners (25%) to express a strong interest in this service, and smartphone owners (29%) are more likely than non-owners (23%) to say they would be “very likely” to use this service.

The librarians in our online panel had mixed reactions to the idea of lending out pre-loaded e-readers. Some said that their libraries already offer this service, with a very positive patron response. Others who are considering offering pre-loaded e-readers are worried about theft or damage, as well as potential copyright issues.

One librarian’s library has e-readers loaded with titles from particular genres, and has found that “the staff and public love them.” Another’s library uses a different method: “Our service allows the patron to select the books they want from our collection. We load the titles onto a device we provide. Loan period is three weeks. Patrons love it!” Other libraries use e-readers to deal with high-demand books, such as bestsellers and book club selections:

“We have preloaded Nooks available for the patrons, and they have become very popular. We started with a few and have had to purchase more Nooks because the demand for them is so high. We put the newest titles on the Nooks. When all copies of a particular hot title are out, we refer people to the Nooks, that way they can read a book that they would have had to wait for, and at the same time they are using an e-reader for the first time.”

However, many of the librarians whose libraries don’t currently lend e-readers are skeptical. One described it as “a copyright nightmare.” Another wrote, “I don’t support the concept of preloaded e-readers since the policies are murky at best as far as public lending goes. The library board also chooses not to lend higher priced equipment in order to avoid potential liability and loss.”

Another library staff member wrote that their library is focusing on other e-book avenues for now: “We have explored the idea of circulating pre-loaded e-readers but rejected it in favor of adding more e-content for our budge dollars since ours is an affluent and electronically sophisticated community.”

A digital media lab where you could create and upload new digital content like movies or your own e-books

Overall, 58% of respondents say they would be interested in a digital media lab where patrons could create and upload new digital content; some 26% say they would be “very likely” to use such a resource.

Though just 18% of whites expressed a strong interest in a digital media lab, 45% of blacks and 44% of Hispanics say they would be “very likely” to use one. Additionally, about a third (32%) of adults 65 and older say they would be likely to use such a lab overall, compared with over half of younger respondents. Finally, urban residents (65%) are more likely than suburban (57%) and rural (48%) residents to express an interest in this service overall.

Both Americans who do not have a computer and Americans who do own a tablet expressed particularly strong interest in this resource. Almost a third (32%) of people who do not own a desktop or laptop computer say they would be “very likely” to use a digital media lab, compared with 24% of those who do own a computer, and 33% of tablet users say they would be very likely to use it, compared with 24% of non-tablet owners.

The librarians in our online panel expressed some interest in this idea, but not a strong interest; few said that their libraries already offer this. Some mentioned staff time, technology resources, budget concerns, and space as primary factors. Others mentioned liability issues related to user-created content. One library staff member wrote:

“Regarding the digital media lab, this is another great idea, but I see a number of barriers to us implementing such a thing at this point. Space is a huge one, but staff knowledge and money are also significant. We are exploring being part of a grant program on creating e-books, so that’s something we may offer some classes on, at least.”

Classes on how to download library e-books to handheld devices

Overall, 57% of respondents say they would be interested in classes on how to download library e-books to handheld devices; some 28% say they would be “very likely” to take this type of class, including 34% of e-reader owners. Overall, 63% of e-reader owners and 58% of tablet owners say they would be likely to use this resource.

Blacks (50%) and Hispanics (49%) are significantly more likely than whites (19%) to say they would be “very likely” to take classes on e-book borrowing. Looking at respondents by age group, Americans under the age of 65 are the most likely to express an interest in these classes, with adults ages 30-64 expressing the strongest interest. Urban residents (64%) are more likely than suburban (54%) and rural (54%) residents to express an interest in this service overall. Those living in households making less than $30,000 per year are also more likely than the highest income levels to be interested in this resource.

Classes on e-borrowing were among the most popular services among our panel of librarian, with many saying that they already offer these and the rest indicating at least some interest in offering these classes in the future. “People love our eBook download classes,” one librarian wrote. “They are some of the highest attended classes.”

While some librarians said that patrons ultimately prefer one-on-one attention, especially due to the wide variety of e-readers available, others said that classes were a useful way to keep patrons’ technology-related questions from occupying too much of staff members’ time:

“The downloadable book classes and device classes [at our library] were necessary to free up reference staff for actual reference questions. Our reference staff are very busy and stopping to teach every other patron how to use the download service was a poor use of resources. The older patrons appreciate the hands on classes where they get the librarian’s undivided attention. The classes were very full to start with but now are very small. We expect the attendance to jump right after Christmas.”

Classes or instruction on how to use handheld reading devices like e-book readers and tablet computers

About half (51%) of respondents say they would be interested in classes on how to download library e-books to handheld devices, including 23% who say they would be “very likely” to take these classes.

Groups who are most likely to say that they would be “very likely” to take classes on how to use handheld reading devices like e-book readers and tablet computers include blacks (38%) and Hispanics (37%); overall, seven in ten blacks and Hispanics say they would be interested in these classes, compared to 43% of whites. Respondents in households making less than $75,000 per year are also more likely than those in higher-income households to be interested in these classes, just as those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with less education.  Adults ages 50-64 are also somewhat more likely than other age groups to be interested in this type of instruction, with 56% of adults in that age group saying they would be interested in these classes (compared with 44% of 18-29 year-olds and 45% of those 65 and older).

Americans who do not already own devices such as tablets, smartphones, or desktop or laptop computers are significantly more likely than those who do own these devices to express an interest in these types of classes. About half (53%) of people who do not own tablets say they would be likely to take classes on how to use handheld reading devices, as did 54% of non-smartphone owners and 57% of those who do not own a desktop or laptop computer.

Over half of the librarians in our online panel said that their libraries already offer this service, and many others indicated interest in doing so in the future. One library staff member wrote that their library had seen “great” turnout for e-reader instruction classes, “but only for the 55+ crowd. Either the younger patrons figure it out on their own or they aren’t using the digital items.”

Interest in these classes also depend on the interests of the library’s community. One librarian wrote:

“Classes are not well-attended, except for Microsoft Office courses that we offer in a continuous loop each month. Many of the people who would like the classes are seniors, and they don’t come out at night. Also, we have a blue-collar community that has two working parents, and they won’t come out to any extra programs. We also have a separate Senior Center that has loads of programming, and we don’t try to compete with them.”

Another library found that patrons required more individualized instruction:

“Our e-reader/tablet classes have been popular but most patrons like one-on-one instruction because, in the class, the instructor and assistants are having to deal with multiple devices, all of which look and act different from each other. Even splitting it up into device-specific classes isn’t a guarantee when you have someone bring in a Kindle Fire and the person next to them still has a first-gen model.”

  1. numoffset=”3″ Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell, Mary Madden and Joanna Brenner, “Libraries, patrons, and e-books.” June 22, 2012.
  2. Lee Rainie and Maeve Duggan, “E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines.” December 27, 2012.