Americans Value Libraries, but Divided About How They Should Be Used

As libraries continue their transformation from places that house books into multi-faceted tech centers and hubs for a wide variety of innovative programs -- including tool librariesLibraries of Things, and makerspaces -- American library users are divided about how these community spaces should be used.

A Pew Research Center study found that 24% of respondents (all US residents) support the idea of moving books and stacks in order to make way for more community and tech-oriented activities, while 31% say libraries should not move the books to create such spaces.

There may be disagreement about how libraries should be divided between tech tools and books but the vast majority of respondents (80%) say libraries should definitely offer programs that help people learn digital skills including how to use new creative technologies like 3D printers.

At the same time, most of those surveyed think that libraries are a major contributor to their communities by providing a safe place to spend time. Respondents want libraries to continue doing this, with 57% saying they should offer more comfortable places for reading, working and relaxing.

Here are other key findings, which show how much Americans value and even depend on their libraries:

  • A large majority of Americans age 16 and older (77%) think libraries provide them with the resources they need. This is especially true for young people: 84% of those between the ages of 16 and 29 say this.
  • Two-thirds (66%) say that if their local public libraries were closed it would have a major impact on their communities as a whole.
  • Among those most likely to say that a library closing would have a major impact on their communities: women (74%); those between the ages of 50 and 64 (73%); and college graduates (71%).
  • Those least likely to report that a library closing would have any kind of impact on their communities: those without high school degrees (15% say a local library closing would have no impact on their communities); non-internet users (15%); and those in households earning less than $30,000 (10%).
  • 33% say that a library closing would have a major impact on them or their families, and this feeling is especially prominent among Latinos (48% believe that their libraries closing would have a major impact on their families); 50- to 64-year-olds (42%); those with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less (41%); and women (39%).
  • When using tech resources at the library, most people do research for school or work (61% of library tech users did in the previous 12 months), followed by checking email or sending texts (53%). A share also get health information (38%) and 26% have taken online classes or completed a certification.

For more findings, see the report: Libraries 2016

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Photo: Skokie Public Library (CC-BY)

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