Weighing In on the Future of Libraries

There are a lot of libraries in the U.S., and all of them are different. Some are geared toward young people, some are community centers, some are on the cutting edge of the digital information revolution, and most of them are looking for ways to keep up with, or ahead of, the times. But as library systems evolve, library users’ needs evolve with them and every patron has their own idea of what their library should be.

How does one begin to address the needs of these different individuals? How do library systems determine the best path to take? Enter the Pew Research Internet and American Life Project. A branch of the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan, non-profit “fact tank,” the project provides information on “the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.” When it comes to libraries, they want to know how libraries and library users’ needs and expectations are changing.

For the next three years, researchers will be gathering independent data through focus groups and surveys of library users in a variety of communities across the country. They will examine the changing habits of users regarding ebooks and reading devices, digital collections and mobile connectivity. They will also look at what library users (and non-users) want from their libraries in terms of physical offerings.

Funded by a 1.4 million dollar investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s library program, the study will “seek to inform, not to prescribe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. “It will provide facts to librarians, policymakers and the public to help them better understand how technology trends are shaping libraries and the communities they serve.”

Having a boundless sea of digital information available to us has put the spotlight on libraries, forcing them to figure out ways to get it into our hands. Library system have individually retooled their offerings and information-delivery methods, but this is an extraordinary opportunity for a nationwide, in-depth, data-driven study of the needs of library users in the digital age.

Get involved
Are you an ebook reading library patron? Are you a librarian? Researchers at the Pew Research Internet project may want to survey you. Email Rainie at lrainie [at] pewinternet [dot] org.

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