Released: May 1, 2013

Parents, Children, Libraries, and Reading

Part 6: Parents and library services

By , , and

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.

Borrowing books and free access to computers and the internet are the most important services libraries provide to the public, according to parents in our sample, but these popular services are followed closely by research and informational help, programs and classes for children and teens, and providing a quiet study space for both adults and children.

32 parents think is important

Parents and other adults do not differ in their ranking of the importance of these services to the public with the exception of borrowing books – parents are more likely than other adults to view this as a very important public service provided by the library (83% vs. 78%).

Among parents, those with income of less than $50,000 are more likely that those with income of $50,000 or more to view most of the services asked about as ‘very important’.  In addition to income, education and parent gender play a role in parental attitudes about these library services; however, there are no differences among parents with children of different ages. A more detailed examination of all these services follows.  

33 very important

Borrowing books

Overall, 83% of parents say that it is “very important” for libraries to provide books to the community for borrowing. Another 13% consider book borrowing “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 2% say it is “not at all important.” Parents with at least some college education are more likely than less educated parents to say borrowing books is a very important library service (87% vs. 79%).

Free access to computers and the internet

Eight in ten (81%) parents think it is “very important” for public libraries to provide free access to computers and the internet to the community. Another 16% consider free computer and internet access “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 1% say it is “not at all important.” Parents with income of less than $50,000 are more likely than those making $50,000 or more to say free access to computers is very important (88% vs. 74%).

Librarians to help people find information they need

Seventy-nine percent of parents say that it is “very important” for the community that libraries have librarians available to help people find information they need. Some 18% consider having librarian assistance available at libraries “somewhat important,” while 1% say this is “not too important” and 1% say it is “not at all important.” Lower income parents are more likely to view librarian help as very important than are parents who make $50,000 or more (88% vs. 71%).

Quiet study spaces for adults and children

Some 78% of parents think it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide quiet study spaces for adults and children. Another 18% consider quiet study spaces “somewhat important,” while 3% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.” Mothers are more likely than fathers to say that providing quiet study spaces is very important (85% vs. 69%) as are those with income less than $50,000 compared to those making $50,000 or more (84% vs. 72%).

Research resources such as free databases

More than three quarters (77%) of parents say it is “very important” for public libraries to provide research resources such as free databases to the community. Another 17% consider these resources “somewhat important,” while 3% say they are “not too important” and 1% say they are “not at all important.” Parents with income of less than $50,000 are more likely than wealthier parents to think free research resources are very important (85% vs. 71%).

Programs and classes for children and teens

Three-quarters (76%) of parents 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 1% say they are “not too important” and 1% say they are “not at all important.” Parents who have not attended college are more likely than college educated parents to view this library service as very important (85% vs. 71%) and so too are parents with income under $50,000 (82% vs. 67%).

Job, employment and career resources

Some 68% of parents think it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide job, employment and career resources. Another 23% consider these resources “somewhat important,” while 5% say they are “not too important” and 3% say they are “not at all important.” Mothers are more likely than fathers to consider this service very important (74% vs. 61%), as are parents with no college education  (82% vs. 60%). and those making less than $50,000 (79% vs. 57%).

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

Two thirds (68%) of parents 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. About a quarter (26%) consider these activities “somewhat important,” while 3% say they are “not too important” and 2% say they are “not at all important.” Mothers are more likely than fathers to say that providing free events is very important (74% vs. 60%) and lower income parents are more likely than wealthier parents to say this is very important (76% vs. 58%).

Free public meeting spaces

About half (46%) of parents say it is “very important” to the community for public libraries to provide free public meeting spaces. Another four in ten (42%) consider this “somewhat important,” while 9% say this is “not too important” and 2% say it is “not at all important.” Mothers are more likely than fathers to say that providing free public meeting spaces is very important (55% vs. 36%) and so are parents making less than $50,000 when compared to wealthier parents (56% vs. 37%).

Public priorities for libraries

We also asked survey respondents 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.

Parents want libraries to increase involvement with helping children prepare for school and providing resources for school children and don’t want libraries to move print books and stacks out of public space to make room for other things and they are somewhat ambivalent about automating services, providing digitizing help or moving library services online.

34 services and programs

There are a few differences between parents and other adults in what changes they would like to see libraries make in the services they offer the public. Parents are more likely than other adults to want libraries to offer more comfortable spaces (65% vs. 56%) probably because they visit the library more.  They are also more likely to think libraries should definitely offer a broader selection of e-books (62% vs. 49%) and offer more interactive learning experiences (54% vs. 43%).  Interestingly, other adults are just as supportive as parents of library services for school children and these activities are supported by eight in ten or more of both groups.

35 parents likely to support

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 children

Overall, 86% of parents say that libraries should “definitely” coordinate more closely with local schools and 12% say libraries should ‘maybe do’ this, 1% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

This subject came up frequently in focus group discussions.You have 30 children in the class who [have] to read the one book,” one parent said. “There’s only one book in the school library, so where else do you go?

Another parent described how her daughter had to track down a copy of a book that she needed for an assignment because it wasn’t at their local branch:

“She had a research paper to do and my daughter is a procrastinator so she of course didn’t get the book in time so there was a waitlist. Every other kid had the same book [checked out] and that’s one thing that’s very frustrating.”

In addition to increased coordination with school, several parents in our focus groups mentioned that they would like tutoring resources at the library, specialized help for students with senior projects, or even assistance preparing for tests like the SAT. Many said that ideally this assistance would be done in conjunction with schools, so that tutors could better assist students with specific assignments or tests.

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 86% of parents say that libraries should “definitely” offer. Another 12% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 2% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

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

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of parents say that libraries should “definitely” create more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing at the library. Some 27% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 7% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.  Parents with income of less than $50,000 a year are more likely than wealthier parents to say that libraries should “definitely do” this (72% vs. 59%).

Many of our focus group participants said that they use the library as a general destination for their family, and appreciated comfortable spaces where they and their children could read and work:

Respondent: I actually enjoy being able to go and sit down at a big table with my children and just do homework, lay all the books out. You know what I mean? Interact with them and be able to – instead of being all closed in in the house or whatever. It’s kind of like your mind flows more when you’re at the library.

Respondent: That’s true.

Respondent: I guess it’s easier because the children could focus there because they know the rules.

Respondent: Yes. [Laughter]

Offer a broader selection of e-books

Six in ten (62%) of parents say that libraries should “definitely” offer a broader selection of e-books. Some 27% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 4% say libraries should “definitely not” do this. Six percent say it doesn’t matter to them or they don’t know.

Have completely separate locations or spaces for different services

A majority (61%) of parents 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 28% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 10% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Offer more interactive learning experiences similar to museum exhibits

More than half (54%) of parents say that libraries should “definitely” offer more interactive learning experiences similar to museum exhibits. Some 35% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 10% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.  Younger parents, those under 40 years of age, are more likely than older parents to say that libraries should definitely do this (62% vs. 46%) and those earning less than $50,000 are more likely than those earning $50,000 or more to say libraries should definitely do this (64% vs. 41%).

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

Almost half (46%) of parents say that libraries should “definitely” move most library services online so users can access them without having to visit the library. Another 31% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and two in ten (21%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this. Parents with no college education are more likely than parents who have been to college to say libraries should definitely move services online (57% vs. 38%).

Help users digitize material such as family photos or historical documents

Some 45% of Americans think that libraries should “definitely” help patrons digitize material such as family photos or historical documents while 41% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 12% say libraries should “definitely not” do this. Parents with annual income of less than $50,000 are more likely than wealthier parents to say that libraries should definitely help users digitize material (56% vs. 34%) while parents with only teenagers (no children under 12) are more likely than other parents to oppose this (23% vs. 9%).

Make most services automated

Four in ten Americans (40%) 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 (22%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

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

Just one in five parents (21%) 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 (37%) say libraries should “maybe” do this, and just about as many (39%) say libraries should “definitely not” do this. Fathers more likely than mothers to think libraries should definitely do this (27% vs. 16%) and those with no college education are more likely than parents who have attended college so say libraries should definitely do this (32% vs. 14%). Parents of teenagers are more likely than parents with only younger children to say libraries should definitely do this (27% vs. 15%).

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.

Parents express moderate interest in taking advantage of library services that might be offered – particularly those that allow them to use or learn more about tech devices such as cell phone apps and new tech devices.  There is less interest in classes in how to use e-readers or e-book readers already loaded with content (possibly because this population has heavy concentration of e-reader ownership already and doesn’t need this type of service).

Slightly less than half of parents say they would be “very likely” to use a cell phone app that allows them to access and use library services from a mobile phone and provide information on library programs (46%) or  a new program that lets them test out the newest tech devices or applications (45%).

Four in ten say they are very likely to use an online research service where they could pose questions to a librarian (41%), a cell phone app that helps them locate material within the library (41%), or library kiosks or red boxes located throughout the community where they could check out books, movies or music (41%).

Roughly a third are very interested in personalized online accounts (37%), classes on how to download library e-books (37%) or a digital media lab for creating digital content (34%). Three in ten or fewer are very interested in e-book readers that are already loaded (31%) or classes in how to use e-book readers (25%).

36 various library services

Parents express more interest than other adults in using almost all of the proposed library services, probably because of their stronger connection with, and increased use of, libraries as well as their demographic characteristics.

37 new library offerings

Among parents, certain groups are more likely than others to express interest in these programs.  The percentage of parents who say they would be “very likely” to use different resources we asked about differed by the following demographic characteristics of parents.

Parents earning less than $50,000 are more likely than wealthier parents to say they would be very likely to use:

Parents with no college education are more likely than those with at least some college education to say they would be very likely to use:

Older parents (those 40 and older) are more likely than those under 40 to say they would be very likely to use:

Parents of teenagers are more likely than other parents to say they would be very likely to use the following library services:

38 parents of teenagers