Released: December 11, 2013

How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities

Section 2: Public Libraries’ Importance and Impact

By , , and

Importance of public library services

Overall, 91% of Americans either have ever used a public library or said another household member uses a public library.1 We asked these respondents who have personal or family experiences with libraries a series of questions about how important they consider various library services, including various library resources and activities.

How important are these library services to you and your family?There are notable patterns in many of the answers about the importance of library services among those who have personal or family experiences with public libraries. In general, women, African-Americans and Hispanics, adults who live in lower-income households, and adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely than other groups to say these services are “very important.”  Those ages 30-64 are more likely than younger or older respondents to say many of the services are “very important,” as are parents with minor children. Urban residents with library experiences are more likely than rural residents to say some services are “very important” to them.

Adults 65 and older are the age group most likely to say that none of these library services are very important to them, and generally rate most services as less important overall. For instance, among those ages 65 and older with some public library experience,65% say that having a quiet and safe place to spend time at the library is important to them and their families overall, compared with 75% of all respondents who say this is important.

How important are these library services to you and your family?Even in cases where a majority or plurality of seniors say the services are important to them, their level of enthusiasm is considerably lower than younger Americans. For example, senior citizens with library experience by a 72%-26% margin say that access to free books and media is important to them – a 46-point spread. On the other hand, those ages 30-49 say such access is important by an 85%-14% margin – a 71-point gap.

Oldest and youngest least likely to say library services very important

Blacks and Hispanics more likely to say library services important

Lower income adults more likely to say library services important

Individual library services

In addition to our basic demographic analyses, we also explored responses based on a variety of life situations and technology use factors, many of which are strongly correlated with lower households incomes and lower levels of education. These include searching for a job, living with a disability, or lacking home internet access, and are discussed in further detail below.

Using the internet, computers, or printers at a public library
Having a quiet and safe place to spend time, read, or study at the library
Library assistance in applying for government programs, permits, or licenses
Help finding or applying for a job
Getting help from a librarian finding information

Finally, internet users who lack home internet access are more likely than other respondents to say all of these services are “very important” to them and their families. Non-internet users are also more likely than internet users with home access to say that many of these services are “very important.”

Impact of a local public library closing

If your local library closed, what impact would it have?About two-thirds (67%) of Americans ages 16 and older said that if their local public library closed, it would affect them and their families. Some 29% of Americans said that such a closer would have a “major” personal impact, and 38% said it would have a “minor” impact. Another 32% said their library’s closing would have “no impact” on them and their families.

Women, adults ages 30-64, and parents are among the groups most likely to say that their local public library’s closing would have a “major” impact on them and their families. Many other groups are also more likely to say their library’s closing would have a major personal impact:

The vast majority (90%) of Americans said that the closing of their local public library would impact their community as a whole, with 63% saying it would have a major impact and 27% said it would have a minor impact. Just 7% said it would have “no impact” on their community.

Women are more likely to say their local public library’s closing would have a major impact on the community than men (70% 55%), and adults ages 30 and older are more likely than younger respondents to say there would be a major impact.

Impact of library closing, by age
Meanwhile, parents are more likely than non-parents to say their library’s closure would have a major impact, and adults with at least some college experience are more likely to say there would be at least a minor impact overall, compared with those with lower levels of education.

Impact of library closing, by race

Impact of library closing, by education

  1. numoffset=”4″ This includes the 86% of Americans ages 16 and older who have ever visited a library or used a library website, and the 54% of Americans who say other members of their household are library users.
  2. Overall, 16% of Americans ages 16 and older say that they have a physical or health condition that makes reading difficult or challenging for them.