The Pew Internet and American Life project just released a report about how people access information to solve problems. While I’ve only had the chance to skim it so far, it’s definitely a report that will be of interest to those of us in libraries and related information professions.

They asked 2,796 respondents if they’d dealt with any of the following issues in the past two years:

1. dealing with a serious illness or health concern; 2. making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; 3. dealing with a tax matter; 4. changing a job or starting a business; 5. getting information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps; 6. getting information about Social Security or military benefits; 7. getting information about voter registration or a government policy; 8. seeking helping on a local government matter such as a traffic problem or schools; 9. becoming involved in a legal matter; and 10. becoming a citizen or helping another person with an immigration matter.

58% of those who had faced at least one of those problems turned to the Internet for help, while only 53% turned to professionals such as doctors and lawyers. 45% consulted friends and family, 36% consulted newspapers and magazines, 34% consulted the government, 16% consulted television or radio, and 13% went to the library.

I must say it’s sad world when people are more likely to consult the TV for help with an important problem than go to the library. I mean, I put a lot of stock in the wisdom of Tila Tequilla, Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil, but really?

The main reason people went to the library was to seek help or do research on schools, training opportunities, or financial matters.

What I found most interesting is that 40% of GenY respondents said they’d be likely to go to the library versus 20% of those over 30. However, 53% of American adults reported visiting the library in the past year. Those people were primarily young Internet users with high income and education levels. People with no Internet access at home or dial-up are less likely to have visited a library. So it sounds like the people who need the library most aren’t using it.

What I found bizarre was that the reports of public library use over the past year dropped off significantly for those over the age of 50. 42% of those ages 62-71 reported using the library and it went down to 32% for those 72 and over. Really? The libraries I’ve visited over the past 20 years have mostly been patronized by those over 60 and under 10.

There’s a ton of information here on who uses the library, how they use the library and why people don’t use the library. It’s definitely worth checking out. I found this suggestion interesting:

But many more people consider going to libraries than actually do. This suggests that libraries should try to untangle the complex web of reasons why different groups of people – even those who might profit most from using the library – don’t in fact use the library, and in some cases, actually shun using it. The reasons are likely to challenge many assumptions about the digital divide.

This is definitely research that needs to be done more. We need to survey our non-users and find out why it is they don’t utilize the library and what we can do to change that.

Here is the PDF of the report and the PDF of the questionnaire. Enjoy!