That Pew Internet Study

If you get a chance and need something to eat up time on a slow desk shift, check out the latest Pew Internet study “Library Services in the Digital Age” that was released on Tuesday. In looking over the report, parts of the results did not impress me in the slightest as they feel like acquiescence bias; that is, people were responding because, well, who doesn’t like public libraries? Sure, those people who think their tax money should only be used on things they use and that other group who thinks that everything is online. Besides, it’s easy to support them in theory rather than in practice because the latter costs money. Moral support is still the cheaper option.

This doesn’t seem as any sharper example to me in the questions that asked how important the library was to them and their family versus the community. A sizeable 91% said it was either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ to their community as a whole, but 76% said the same thing about themselves and their family. Even then, only 53% of respondents had visited a library in the last twelve months. To me, this indicates a gap between the qualities of ‘important’ and ‘useful’ as well as the value of a ‘personal’ versus a ‘community’ one.

If you examine this 53% that used the library, the Pew Internet breaks down the results of their activities when they have visited:

While it is excellent news for print materials as well as serendipitous discovery, the remaining activities just drop off from that point. In looking at the middle percentile of visitors, 50% of those 53% who have visited a library in the last twelve months have received help from a librarian. Perhaps this is due to the fact that a bookmobile (one of qualifying locations within the question) won’t have the same resources as a brick and mortar library, but it still doesn’t bode well in my estimation.

If you have some time, check it out. There are some results within this survey that caught my eye and made an eyebrow arch a couple of times.

Having more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing: 59% of Americans ages 16 and older say libraries should “definitely do” this”

And then on the other hand:

At the same time, people have different views about whether libraries should move some printed books and stacks out of public locations to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events: 20% of Americans ages 16 and older said libraries should “definitely” make those changes; 39% said libraries “maybe” should do that; and 36% said libraries should “definitely not” change by moving books out of public spaces.

Then there is this:

GPS-navigation apps to help patrons locate material inside library buildings: 34% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 28% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.

I can’t wait to help someone because an app told them that a book was RIGHT HERE when a simple shelf read would tell them otherwise. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Apple will make the app. It does make sense in Dewey non-fiction as well as Library of Congress headings, but my library is so small that a navigation app would be like using a Garmin for a Hot Wheels speed track.

Perhaps this is one of those ideas that doesn’t scale down well, but I do think it would be a hoot to record authors giving directions. Just imagine someone walking through stacks when they hear Neil Gaiman’s voice in the app saying, “At the next set of stacks, go straight. Your book will be halfway down on the left.”

It’s too bad Q&A NJ virtual reference was killed in New Jersey because:

Online research services allowing patrons to pose questions and get answers from librarians: 37% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use an “ask a librarian” type of service, and another 36% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.

After the news out of Digital Book World’s conference about how people don’t use Amazon to find books, I guess people just like to think that they do:

“Amazon”-style customized book/audio/video recommendation schemes that are based on patrons’ prior library behavior: 29% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 35% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.

The final thing I’ll quote from the report:

About half of Americans (53%) say that libraries should “definitely” offer a broader selection of e-books. Some 30% say libraries should “maybe” do this, and 5% say libraries should “definitely not” do this.

Better keep on working on this one. Either this broader offering runs through the publishers (possibly kicking and screaming), around them through sites like Smashwords, or over them by making a system that allows us to work with authors directly.

Oddly enough, the “definitely” and “maybe” groups closely correlates to about the same percentage of people who think the library is important or somewhat important to themselves or their family. Perhaps I’m just showing my own bias on the subject here, but compared to some of the other “what color would you want your unicorn?” kind of library wishlist questions, at least this one is something that can be acted upon in the very near future.

I don’t know what the future of the public library holds (I know what I hope it will hold), but based on these results, our patrons are expecting a little bit of everything, even if it contradicts itself.

7 thoughts on “That Pew Internet Study

  1. It does sound like library members/patrons want a little of this and a little of that.Then again, as a profession we are still trying to figure out what we should be (henceforth). Interesting that “to borrow or download an e-book” did not appear on the noteworthy list of uses.

    • I think the question was “Why do you visit the library?” and you generally don’t have to visit a library to borrow an ebook. Unless virtual visitors were also polled and that was reflected somewhere else in the study.

  2. While I was glad to hear that so many people value libraries, I was also unimpressed by aspects of the Pew study. Saying something is “important” is not the same as using it or committing to it financially. I was also concerned that something like 30% of respondents who were “using the library less” weren’t going because they didn’t know where the library was. I’m pretty sure a plurality also didn’t know the services the library offers. We need to do a better job of getting that information out there to non-library users.

    With the GPS thing, instead of tagging the location where the book should be, I would hope that it would tag the actual book, using RFID or something like it. My library is small too, but I’d love to see a map where the book’s actual physical location is lit up with a red dot. It would solve the biggest organizational problem in libraries: things getting shelved out of order. Also you would finally be able to tell patrons the book they “definitely returned” was (or, ahem, was not) in the library.

  3. “I can’t wait to help someone because an app told them that a book was RIGHT HERE when a simple shelf read would tell them otherwise. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Apple will make the app.”

    After the whole Apple Maps thing, I have to assume that’s sarcasm.

  4. I’ve been to my new local library a couple of times to browse for books and use wifi. It was a startling reminder of Ross and Dewdney’s negative closure article. If I didn’t have an MLS and know the service I was supposed to get, I perhaps wouldn’t have been as shocked by librarians waving vaguely in the direction of a book section and telling me that if I were doing it right, I’d be able to connect to wifi (when their Facebook page put out multiple warnings that it was down). Or the sneer from the MLS candidate in circ at my choice of an Azimov book. Or the librarian who could think of no possible way I might volunteer my time to support the library. Which, I might add, is supported by an assessment, rather than property taxes. I’ve been thinking of going out of my system to see if they’ll treat people better. Believing libraries are important and being willing to run the gauntlet are two different things to me now that I’m not working there.

  5. Pingback: Bonus Post: Bloggers in LibraryLand | A Whole New World

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