PEW Internet Releases a Typology of U.S. Public Library Engagement

March 14, 2014

This is the final report in the Pew Internet public library initiative (funding from Gates Foundation) that was first announced in October 2011.  These initiative studied the, "changing role of public libraries and library users in the digital age."   


The report being released yesterday, a typology (what is a typology?) of public library engagement  in the United States is titled, From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers-and beyond.  It was written by Pew Internet's Kathryn Zickuhr, Kristen Purcell, and Lee Rainie.


Direct to Full Text Report  ||| PDF Version of the Report (131 pages)  An Appendix with Additional Data is Also Available (10 pages; PDF)  Background and Key Findings

  • Public library users and proponents are not a niche group:  30% of Americans ages 16 and older are highly engaged with public libraries, and an additional 39% fall into medium engagement categories. 
  • Americans' 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.  As a rule, people who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks.   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.
  • Life stage and special circumstances are linked to increased library use and higher engagement with information:  Deeper connections with public libraries are often associated with key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, being a student, and going through a situation in which research and data can help inform a decision. Similarly, quieter times of life, such as retirement, or less momentous periods, such as when people's jobs are stable, might prompt less frequent information searches and library visits.
  • Most Americans do not feel overwhelmed by information today.  Some 18% of Americans say they feel overloaded by information-a drop in those feeling this way from 27% who said information overload was a problem to them in 2006.  Those who feel overloaded are actually less likely to use the internet or smartphones, and are most represented in groups with lower levels of library engagement (such as Off the Grid, Distant Admirers, and Not For Me).
  • Libraries score high ease of access and use-even among those who are not frequent users:  Fully 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say they know where the closest library is, and 72% live within 5 miles of a library branch.  Asked how easy it would be for them to use libraries if they wanted, 93% of Americans ages 16 and older say libraries would be easy for them to visit in person, including 74% of those in the Off the Grid group.  Further, 82% of all Americans say library websites would be easy for them to use.
  • There are people who have never visited a library who still have positive views of public libraries and their roles in their communities:  Members of the group we identify as "Distant Admirers" have never personally used a library, but nevertheless tend to have strongly positive opinions about how valuable libraries are to communities-particularly for libraries' role in encouraging literacy and for providing resources that might otherwise be hard to obtain.  Many Distant Admirers say that someone else in their household does use the library, and therefore may use library resources indirectly.
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