Released: January 22, 2013

Press release: Library Services in the Digital Age


Libraries are key technology hubs in their communities

Many patrons would like even more tech-centered services such as online
reference librarians, apps for accessing material and browsing stacks, gadget “petting zoos” to explore new tools, Redbox-style lending kiosks, and Amazon-style book recommendations

But many feel that print books remain important in the digital age


Washington (January 22, 2013) – Free access to technology at libraries now rivals books and reference help as a key library service.

Moreover, a notable share of Americans say they would embrace even wider uses of technology at libraries such as:

These are some of the key findings from a new national survey of 2,252 Americans ages 16 and older by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, conducted via cell phones and landlines between October 15-November, 2012 and in English and Spanish. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.3 percentage points.

“In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new forms,” noted Kathryn Zickuhr, Research Analyst at the Pew Internet Project, and co-author of a new report on the survey findings. “While many patrons appreciate being able to access new digital resources at libraries, they also say they value having print books and other traditional resources at libraries and still want a personal connection with library staff.  Many libraries are torn between expanding their digital offerings on the latest platforms and still providing quality resources for patrons who may lack experience with technology or the means to own the latest devices.”

The greatest public resistance to change came when the question turned to the prominence of printed books in library spaces. Asked whether libraries should move some printed books and stacks out of public locations to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events: 20% of Americans ages 16 and older said libraries should “definitely” make those changes; 39% said libraries “maybe” should do that; and 36% said libraries should “definitely not” change by moving books out of public spaces.

When it comes to tech activities at libraries: 26% of Americans ages 16 and older have used computers and the internet at their library in the past 12 months, 25% visited a library website, and 13% have access library material via mobile connections through a smartphone or tablet.

Some 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.

Public priorities for libraries

Asked about changes libraries could make to add to their services to the public, majorities of Americans would definitely recommend:

Not only do people want more e-book selections in their public libraries, more than half of all people would be likely to check out e-readers already loaded with books (58%); take classes on how to download library e-books to handheld devices (57%) and take classes or instruction on how to use handheld reading devices like e-readers and tablet computers (51%). This represents significant growth from a survey a year ago.

The technology that is sweeping through libraries has also shifted library usage. Some 26% of recent library users say their library use has increased in the past five years and 22% say their use has decreased.

The main reasons people say their use has increased: 26% of those who are saying they use the library more say they enjoy taking their children and grandchildren; 14% say they are doing research; 12% say they borrow books more and 10% are students.  The main reasons people say their use has decreased: 40% of those who say they are using the library less because they can get books and do research online; 16% say their children have grown; 12% say they are too busy; 9% say they can’t get to the library.

How people use libraries

Of the 53% who visited a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months, here are the activities they say they do at the library:

Some 22% of those who visited a library website in the past year borrowed an e-book.

“The level of public eagerness for new services seems to be matched by wariness of changes in traditional library activities that patrons have used for years,” said Lee Rainie, Director at the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report on these findings. “These findings paint a picture of a public that wants its libraries to be all things to all patrons. There is no clear roadmap of public priorities for libraries, so different communities will likely come up with different mixes of services as they move into the future.”

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Internet Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at

Disclaimer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: This report is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media contacts:

Pew Internet

Lee Rainie: and 202-419-4510

Kathryn Zickuhr: and 202-419-4518

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The line is staffed all the time and will direct the inquiry appropriately.

Phone: +1.206.709.3400