Reflections on the latest PEW Report

February 9, 2013


Photo by eszter on Flickr

Photo by eszter on Flickr

The latest PEW Report is called Libraries in the Digital Age. It is being buzzed about all over in the library realm (and beyond.) For example, here is an article asking Should Libraries Shush? which discussed an article from Salon about bringing back the shushing librarians.  However, “quiet spaces” was only part of the story.  Here are a few of my reflections on the report, and what it means to me and my library.

One of the nice surprises was that 80% of those surveyed felt that reference librarians were a very important service.  In this day and age of less and less contact with humans and more automation, it is nice to know that this customer service aspect is appreciated and needed.  Sometimes people just need another person to talk through their question or research, and that’s what we are here for: to advise, to listen, to provide understanding and to not judge.

91% felt that libraries were important to their communities, even if they don’t go to the library themselves.  However, only 22% know what’s going on at the library on a regular basis.  Some of us are not very good at marketing, and we need to partner more and use social media more effectively to get the word out.

Not surprisingly, those that are more economically challenged were more likely to use the library and its services.  Additionally, African-Americans and Hispanics were more likely to say the library was important.  We have traditionally served the “underserved” parts of our communities, and these are important groups in which to direct marketing and programming efforts.

Those surveyed said they wish they were more aware of the services that the library offers (there’s marketing again!), and these were the top 5 things they felt were most important:

1. Librarians
2. Borrowing Books
3. Free computer access
4. Quiet spaces
5. Programs

All of these are things libraries have traditionally offered, at least for the past 20 years.  However, each offers some challenges:

1. Librarians–differences in older vs. newer ways of thinking, glut of new librarians with no jobs available, low paying positions.

2. Borrowing books-balancing the costs between print and ebooks, FINDING available ebooks for libraries to meet demand, finding budget for materials when it often has to go to technology (and budgets dont’ seem to increase with the cost of living).

3. Free computer access-again, finding budget to keep up with programs/technology, training staff to use new technology, paying the personnel to manage the system.

4. Quiet spaces-finding/making separate spaces in the library in a noisier world, balancing the quiet with the active,finding budget for re-doing the library to accommodate such spaces.

5. Programs-budgeting, marketing to make it successful, determining needs of community for types of programs.

Common theme: budget, thinking broadly,personnel, being flexible.

When asked about the strengths of libraries, these terms were in the forefront:

Community, relationships, literacy, entertainment, technology, knowledge, help, non-judgemental, education.

Guiding principles mentioned were:

Lifelong learning, digital literacy, unbiased, free, access, gathering place, connection

Changes to libraries proposed in the report by the focus group participants:

Need to be flexible, keep up with technology, librarians need to seek people out rather than wait for them to come to them, better promotion, partner with other libraries/business, look at modern ways to organize materials, focus on user experience, expand mobile services, get out into the community, have more convenient hours.

As librarians, we have to work to get to the heart of what our community wants.  Libraries are changing, it is true, but there is room for both the traditional (quiet, print books) and the modern (ebooks, programs, community gathering place).  Rather than be all things to all people, perhaps a better approach would be to do some information gathering and see where and how your community needs your library. 

Focus on the underserved and those who need us, too.  Find some niches in your community and develop some programs specifically to them (veterans, English language learners, parents with young children, seniors.)  Go to those niches and find out what they could use, and TALK with them, let them know you care about them and their needs.

The more you get out into your community, the more you collaborate with different groups, the more your library will mean to your community, and the more you will be a reflection of it.

Read the report (80 p.) and develop some questions for your community.  Then develop a marketing plan to get the word out about how much you do and contribute to the community.


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