An unofficial survey of our young users…

December 12, 2012


My son, Reese

My son, Reese

Tonight I asked my 11-year-old what he thought of when he thinks of a library.  He said:

“Tall shelves full of books in a maze that is hard to get through.”

A couple other thoughts were:

“Books have lots of interesting things in them.”  “The library is important because they help you find valuable information.” “I can usually find the stuff that I want.”

I infer a couple of things from this: that, to him, libraries are still book-focused, that they have good information, and that libraries are a place where you can find out what you need to know.

Recently, Pew came out with a report on Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits.  A couple of interesting statistics:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.
  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

Much of the use may be related to school and college assignments; however, teens also use the library to borrow leisure reading materials, and to connect with others with their shared interests, via teen programming.

Although my son doesn’t read as prolifically as he used to, he still feels that libraries are important, and that they contain “valuable information.” 

Although a little older than my son’s age, the 16-17 age group has these characteristics (from Pew):

…despite their greater use of their local public library, high schoolers are less likely than older age groups to say that the library is important to them and their family. Just over half consider the library “very important” or “somewhat important” to them and their families, compared with roughly two-thirds of older Americans. At the same time, these high school-aged respondents do offer some clues as to what other roles the library could play in their lives. While generally as likely to own e-book reading devices as older Americans, high schoolers are significantly more likely to say that they would be interested in checking out pre-loaded e-readers from their local public library if this service was offered.

So, if our young users actually USE the library, but don’t think it is as important to them as older Americans, what does this mean for our future?

Part of this may be that there isy a culture of “good enough”–I see this all the time at the community college level students.  There is a great reliance on information that may not be the BEST, but it is good enough for the information need, usually gotten from a simple Google search.  If we cannot just be a great information provider, can we fill a need for leisure and community activity?  How do we hook these future parents and tax payers into being our supporters in a time when libraries are starting to be questioned as a possibly unnecessary expense?  And how do we convince students at all levels that they should demand a wide range of high quality information when making decisions? 

Like my son, do students see the bookshelves in the library as containing valuable information, but as a maze that is hard to get through?  In what ways can we enhance our spaces and make them more user-friendly? (Some libraries are beginning to adopt a bookstore-type organization plan for browsing that makes more sense to the users.)

These are some of the challenges that we face.  I was delighted that my son saw a library as a place full of valuable information, and a place where you can find stuff you are looking for.  But, as competition gets stiffer from all types of media and funding, we need to find ways to bring in our future users and make them see the benefits of the library as space and resource.


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