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!
I think a lot of people are intimidated by libraries. They don’t know the byzantine rules about how much is allowed and where things are and don’t want to look stupid and ask. All libraries are different, so it’s not like you can just go to one and you’re all set for any other one. If we were Walmart or Macys you’d pretty much know the layout and can browse until checkout, and you know exactly what to expect then. Not intimidating. A comfy experience.
I take heart in the fact that people still NEED information. Libraries have a role to play in filling that need. We have to solve that marketing problem, but we also have to be able to provide the actual information. More to say here.
So, these non-yet-potential users–what’s their geographic location to the library, and what’s the transportation situation like? How old is the library’s collection in regard to what they’re looking for? What are the staff like? I know I hate it when people yell at me and tell me to bugger off and go find it my damn self. Ellen and Steven both make very good points about providing information, especially in user-friendly ways. I think it’s worse if you’re in a small, rural library, but I also know that things are tough all over. Digital divide issues have a bit to do with it, but so do basic things like collection development and age, geographic location, and what kind of hours the library’s available. I’m not knockin’ anybody, I’m just sayin’. . . Interesting stuff!
“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.”
I have a suspicion that there’s a correlation (weak, but real) between internet usage and reading. (There must certainly be a correlation between education and reading). So this isn’t really surprising. Certainly something that needs to be addressed, though. Better marketing of the library as ‘more than books’?
“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.”
Maybe it was just the focus on public libraries.
I work at a state library, and many of our state’s senior citizens patronize us instead of their local public libraries because we will ILL for free, we’re the place with the ‘large print’ collections, and we’re the place with the talking books.