Libraries in the Digital Age

Public library engagement in urban, suburban, and rural communities

July 11, 2014

Our library engagement typology found that Americans fall into four broad levels of engagement with public libraries, which can further be divided into nine total groups. (Want to see which group you fall into? Take our library user type quiz to find out!)

But how common are these groups in urban, suburban, and rural areas?1

Library engagement among different community types

Print Traditionalists, a medium-engagement group, are far more likely to live in rural areas than any other group, and account for one in five rural residents. Meanwhile, the low-engagement Young and Restless group, along with the highly-engaged Information Omnivores, are more likely than most others to live in urban areas, and are relatively scarce in rural communities. Finally, looking at our two non-engagement groups (comprised of people who have never used a public library), we see that suburban and rural areas also contain higher proportions of Distant Admirers, while urban areas contain higher proportions of those Off the Grid.

Update: Here’s how that same chart looks by overall levels of library engagement (high/medium/low/none):

Engagement levels among community types

So what’s going on here? A lot of it boils down to demographics. We know, for instance, that people living in rural areas tend to have lower levels of education and are more likely to be older than those who live in urban or suburban areas—all factors that are associated with lower levels of library engagement.

Community type demographics

Similarly, people living in urban areas are more likely to be in younger age groups than those in other community types, and those living in suburban areas are more likely to have higher levels of household income—both features that are associated with higher levels of library engagement.

 

What sort of library users (or non-users) are in your community? Click here to learn more about how to create a library user type quiz for your community or group.

  1. The community designations that form the basis of this report are based on the location of the telephone number in a community of a specific size.  For landline numbers in the sample, urban/suburban/rural designations based on Office of Management and Budget (OMB) definitions are appended to each number in the sample by the survey sample vendor.  For cell phone numbers, respondents are asked the zip code in which they live and then those cell phone respondents are matched to known community type designations based on landlines in the same zip code.  For about 5% of the sample, almost exclusively cell phone respondents, community type cannot be determined because the zip code provided cannot be matched to existing community type designations.

Public library engagement in urban, suburban, and rural communities

July 11, 2014

Our library engagement typology found that Americans fall into four broad levels of engagement with public libraries, which can further be divided into nine total groups. (Want to see which group you fall into? Take our library user type quiz to find out!)

But how common are these groups in urban, suburban, and rural areas?1

Library engagement among different community types

Print Traditionalists, a medium-engagement group, are far more likely to live in rural areas than any other group, and account for one in five rural residents. Meanwhile, the low-engagement Young and Restless group, along with the highly-engaged Information Omnivores, are more likely than most others to live in urban areas, and are relatively scarce in rural communities. Finally, looking at our two non-engagement groups (comprised of people who have never used a public library), we see that suburban and rural areas also contain higher proportions of Distant Admirers, while urban areas contain higher proportions of those Off the Grid.

Update: Here’s how that same chart looks by overall levels of library engagement (high/medium/low/none):

Engagement levels among community types

So what’s going on here? A lot of it boils down to demographics. We know, for instance, that people living in rural areas tend to have lower levels of education and are more likely to be older than those who live in urban or suburban areas—all factors that are associated with lower levels of library engagement.

Community type demographics

Similarly, people living in urban areas are more likely to be in younger age groups than those in other community types, and those living in suburban areas are more likely to have higher levels of household income—both features that are associated with higher levels of library engagement.

 

What sort of library users (or non-users) are in your community? Click here to learn more about how to create a library user type quiz for your community or group.

  1. The community designations that form the basis of this report are based on the location of the telephone number in a community of a specific size.  For landline numbers in the sample, urban/suburban/rural designations based on Office of Management and Budget (OMB) definitions are appended to each number in the sample by the survey sample vendor.  For cell phone numbers, respondents are asked the zip code in which they live and then those cell phone respondents are matched to known community type designations based on landlines in the same zip code.  For about 5% of the sample, almost exclusively cell phone respondents, community type cannot be determined because the zip code provided cannot be matched to existing community type designations.

Public libraries and technology: From “houses of knowledge” to “houses of access”

July 09, 2014

One major finding in our research into Americans’ use of public libraries is the extent to which libraries are synonymous not only with knowledge and information, but with the tools needed to acquire it in the digital age. Some 77% of Americans now think it is “very important” for public libraries to provide free access to computers and the internet to the community, and 95% think it is important overall. (For comparison, 80% of Americans say that it is “very important” for libraries to provide books to the community for borrowing.)

Qualitative work with library staff members echoes these findings. “Our most popular area is the public access computers,” one librarian told us. Many emphasized that they see the role of a public library enabling access to information, regardless of format. “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.”

An article in the New York Times yesterday illustrated this point by exploring some of the ways that patrons of the Clason’s Point Library branch in the Bronx rely on the library’s internet access—even when the library itself is closed:

Like most homes in his part of the Bronx, Joey’s apartment has no Internet access. Even before the library opens for the day, people stand outside, polishing résumés, then dash in at the crack of 10 a.m. to use the printers. “Then they get right on the train for job interviews,” said Wanda Luzon, the manager of the Clason’s Point Branch of the New York Public Library.

Joey, 15, who is going to be a sophomore in high school, arrives at the end of the day, after he is finished at the year-round academic enrichment program he attends in Manhattan. He walks a block from the Westchester Avenue el, then settles in at the library until closing time, which is 7 p.m. on Mondays. Then he continues his online session through the library’s network.

“I’ve got an hour before sunset, when it gets dangerous,” Joey said.

As he spoke, a young woman nearby finished her online sidewalk session and moved on.

Our data shows that 91% of Americans have either used a public library at some point in their life, or say someone else in their household uses a public library. Among them,  77% of Americans who use the internet but lack home access say computer and internet access at their public library is important to them and their family—including 56% who say it is “very important.” The New York Times article also cited research from the New York Public Library which found that a majority of patrons who use the library’s internet and computers lack home internet access.

In general, Americans living in lower-income households are also more likely than those in higher-income households to say that internet access at libraries—as well as many other services—are important to them and their families (as shown in the following chart).

Lower income adults more likely to say library services important

Currently, 75% of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 per year use the internet, but only about 52% have a broadband connection at home.

Public libraries and the quiz-takers who love them

July 08, 2014

The Pew Research Center recently released a library user quiz (“What kind of library user are you?”) based on the nationally representative telephone survey findings in our report, “From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond: A typology of public library engagement in America.”

Much like our political typology, the library engagement typology sorts Americans ages 16 and older into different groups based on their habits and attitudes—in this case, based on how they use public libraries and perceive libraries’ importance in their communities. The quiz, which has been taken over 15,000 times, is a fun (and non-scientific) way for our website visitors and various community groups to compare their library habits to those of the general population.

So how did the online quiz-takers compare with the results of our nationally representative telephone survey? Read more »

7 surprises about libraries in our surveys

June 30, 2014

The Pew Research Center’s studies about libraries and where they fit in the lives of their communities and patrons have uncovered some surprising facts about what Americans think of libraries and the way they use them. As librarians around the world are gathered in Las Vegas for the American Library Association’s annual conference, here are findings that stand out from our research.  Read more »

How does your community’s library engagement compare with the rest of the country?

June 30, 2014

Are you a librarian, educator, civic leader or a member of the public who is interested in your local public library’s role in your community? Compare the library engagement of your library or group with the rest of the country using our new “community quiz” tool!

What kind of library users are in your community?

With the community quiz tool, you can learn how your community’s members use their local public library, how they think about their library’s impact on the community, and how they view the importance of libraries in the digital age. You will also see how the responses of your group compare with those of the general population, based on the results of our nationally representative September 2013 phone survey.

The new quiz tool allows you to create your own version of our library user quiz and invite members of your community to take it. You will then be able to see the overall results of everyone who have taken your version of the quiz. (Note: You will be able to see the aggregate quiz results for your group; everyone who takes the quiz will do so anonymously and the answers of individual respondents will not be available.)

To get started, click here to register your group. You will then receive an email with your unique URL and group ID, which you can use to  invite members of your group to take your version of the quiz. (Check out our Help Center for more detailed instructions.)

An example of a results page
An example of a results page comparing a group’s responses to those of the general population.

In general, you have two main options for inviting members of your community to take your quiz:

Please note that anyone who takes the quiz with your unique URL or group ID will be considered part of your community, and thus counted in your results. Read More »

“Stack attack”? The NYPL controversy and the future of public libraries

May 13, 2014

Indicator Main Reading Room and New York Public Library Central Building Stacks.
Indicator Main Reading Room and New York Public Library Central Building Stacks. Source: NYPL Digital Collections

The New York Public Library recently announced that it is rethinking its controversial plans to turn parts of its 42nd Street location into a public lending library—replacing the stacks that housed its research collection with a four-story atrium in the process. NYPL announced Thursday that they will scrap those plans due to budget concerns, and instead keep the research library and its stacks intact.

Or, as a New York Daily News headline put it: “The New York Public Library has pulled the plug on its planned stack attack.”

Read More »

A new way of looking at public library engagement in America

March 18, 2014

We recently released our latest report, a typology of public library engagement in America. Using the data behind our previous report on how people value libraries in their communities, this typology divides Americans into nine groups that reflect different patterns of public library engagement along a general spectrum of high, medium, low, and non-engagement.

This approach is a little new for us. Our previous reports have explored topics such as what people do at libraries and library websites or how Americans value individual library services based on traditional factors such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, and household income, but this typology moves beyond basic demographic descriptions. Instead, we used statistical analysis to cluster individuals into groups based on their usage of, views toward, and access to libraries, in order to discover larger insights about how libraries fit into American culture. The following table provides an overview of the typology groups.

Library engagement typology overview

One thread running throughout the report is that people’s library habits do not exist in a vacuum. Americans’ connection—or lack of connection—with public libraries is part of their broader information and social landscape. Those who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks. Meanwhile, many of those who are less engaged with public libraries tend to have lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities. These findings echo in several ways: Read More »

10 facts about Americans and public libraries

January 24, 2014

Technology and the internet are changing Americans’ reading habits and also their relationship with libraries. Half of Americans now own a tablet or e-reader and libraries have responded by expanding their digital offerings.

But what hasn’t changed is Americans’ love for books. American adults still read about as much as ever and overwhelmingly say libraries play an important role in their communities. In advance of the American Library Association’s Midwinter Convention (#alamw14) in Philadelphia, here are some key facts and trends we have chronicled in our research on America’s public libraries.  Read more » 

New reading data from the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts

October 02, 2013

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently released the findings of its latest Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, conducted in July 2012.

nea[1] copy

As of mid-2012, the survey found that 58% of all American adults ages 18 and older had engaged in “voluntary reading” within the past year. Here’s how that “Voluntary Reading” category breaks down:

Overall, 58% of American adults (or roughly 136 million Americans) did at least one of these types of reading in the previous year. Our own research has found that 75% of Americans ages 16 and older read a book of any kind in 2012, including books read for school or work. Read More »

Who has home broadband? New data and resources

August 28, 2013

In case you missed it, we just released our latest data on home broadband adoption among American adults:

The report also found that demographic groups with the highest rates of home broadband adoption continue to be college graduates, adults under age 50, and adults living in households earning at least $50,000, as well as whites and adults living in urban or suburban areas. Read More »

  1. For our broadband definition, we asked people who said they used the internet at home the following question: “At home, do you connect to the Internet through a dial-up telephone line, or do you have some other type of connection, such as a DSL-enabled phone line, a cable TV modem, a wireless connection, or a fiber optic connection such as FIOS?”

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