Rumors of the library's demise have been greatly exaggerated

New Pew study finds that, even in the digital age, people still go to libraries for printed books - but they also use and want more Internet-based services

library-600x450_0.jpgREUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Libraries - ad librarians - are filling new needs in the digital age

In these days of tablets, e-readers, e-books, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Google and Wikipedia it may seem that libraries are an endangered species. Who needs to get their butts off the couch, put on pants and haul it across town for a book or video when that’s all available right on your mobile device, next to the bowl of Cheetos? Who needs a reference librarian when I can just ask my phone who the 35th president was? Surely the future of libraries, and librarians, is bleak, right?

Not according to the results of a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project released this week. The Pew folks surveyed 2,252 people 16 and over about their use of libraries. Among other things, they found that library usage is still strong. 59% of respondent had recently used the library; of those 78% go to the library as much or more than they did 5 years ago.

[Free MacBook vending machine dispenses quick computing at Drexel University and Tape Storage Finds New Life in the Enterprise and Beyond]

They also found that libraries still serve their traditional roles. 73% of recent library patrons went there to browse the shelves and to borrow print books. 54% went to research a topic, 50% went to get help from a librarian and 49% went to read, study or consume media. No word on how many of those were listening to Cheap Trick LPs like some of us did back in the day.

The study also indicates that people are increasingly making use of libraries for digital services. 26% of respondents indicated they went to the library to use computers or WiFi. Of those folks, 66% used it for research, 63% browsed the Internet for fun, 35% accessed social networks and 26% downloaded or watched a video. 

As for what people want out of libraries going forward, there’s ample evidence that they want to continue to use the traditional services. 80% of respondents said that it’s “very important” that libraries continue to lend books and provide reference librarians. Good news for you librarians! We still need and love you - even if you tell us to pipe down every now and again.

However, in addition to the traditional services, people want expanded digital services from their library. 73% of respondents would likely use online access to librarians; 65% would likely use apps to access library services; 69% would likely use technology “petting zoos” to try out new devices. 64% of respondents said they would likely use Amazon-like recommendations based on usage behavior if offered by their library.

There was one finding that I found odd: 62% of people said they would likely use GPS-navigation apps to locate material within the library. Really? Is it that hard to use the old card catalog? People would rather use satellite-based technology to find a copy of the Hunger Games than the good old Dewey Decimal System? I find this disappointing. 

Anyway, as a regular library user (and still print book reader), I find these results very encouraging. It’s good to see people still making use of libraries and libraries finding ways to stay relevant in the digital age. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll head to my  local branch to see if they have any Cheap Trick on vinyl.

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