Pew study affirms vital role of libraries

Libraries are transforming amidst the changing information landscape and a report released this week by the Pew Research Center, Libraries at the Crossroads, affirms the evolving role of public libraries within their communities as vital resources that advance education and digital empowerment.

“Public libraries are transforming beyond their traditional roles and providing more opportunities for community engagement and new services that connect closely with patrons’ needs,” ALA President Sari Feldman said. “The Pew Research Center report shows that public libraries are far from being just ‘nice to have,’ but serve as a lifeline for their users, with more than 65 percent of those surveyed indicating that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community.

Parents and children gather around Belinda J. Pugh, supervisory librarian for the station library, as she reads one of many books during the Story Time class held in the children’s room of the station library here. Story Time is an hour-long class held in the children’s room every Thursday at 10 a.m. It is open to all children age 5 and younger to help promote reading.

Source: Wikimedia, United States Marine Corps

Libraries are not just about what we have for people, but what we do for and with people,” Feldman said. “Today’s survey found that three-quarters of the public say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies. This is buttressed by the ALA’s Digital Inclusion Survey, which finds that virtually all libraries provide free public access to computers and the Internet, Wi-Fi, technology training and robust digital content that supports education, employment, e-government access and more.

Although the report affirms the value of public libraries, the ALA recognizes the need for greater public awareness of the transformation of library services, as the report shows library visits over the past three years have slightly decreased. In response, libraries of all types are preparing for the launch of a national public awareness campaign entitled ‘Libraries Transform.’

Libraries from across the county will participate in the campaign and will work to change the perception that ‘libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read’ to ‘libraries are centers of their communities: places to learn, create and share, with the help of library staff and the resources they provide,” she noted.

The report also reveals that 75 percent of the public say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies. This is buttressed by the ALA’s Digital Inclusion Survey, which finds that virtually all libraries provide free public access to computers and the Internet, Wi-Fi, technology training and robust digital content that supports education, employment, e-government access and more.

With their accessibility to the public in virtually every community around the country, libraries offer online educational tools for students, employment resources for job-seekers, computer access for those without it and innovation centers for entrepreneurs of all ages.

Other interesting findings in the report that point to the vital role of libraries in communities nationwide include:

  • 65 percent maintain that libraries contribute to helping people decide what information they can trust.
  • 75 percent say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies.
  • 78 percent believe that libraries are effective at promoting literacy and love of reading.

About Nancy Gravatt

Nancy Gravatt was a press officer of the American Library Association’s Washington Office.

4 comments

  1. I would argue that “visiting the library” encompasses both physical and virtual visits. I’m also confused as to why there is a distinction made between “using library websites” and using mobile access. What possible difference does it make whether the user logged in on a desktop or a phone? It is also quite clear from the data that young people value being able to read ebooks in the physical space of the library.

    I think this is called “missing the forest for the trees.” Clay tablets — scrolls — hand written codexes — print books — microforms — movies — records — audio tapes (cassette and 8-track) — video tapes — CDs — DVDs — libraries have provided access to all of them. Let’s stop being so hung up on “electronic” that we miss the basic truth — libraries provide access to informational, educational and recreational materials in all formats for all of their community. And they do it in an accessible and welcoming public space.

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