Pew survey finds libraries still important to Americans in digital age

Even with proliferation of tablets, vast majority value public libraries

Just in case you thought that Americans flush with tablets and eReaders viewed libraries as a quaint, 20th century institution, guess again. A new Pew survey of American attitudes toward libraries in the digital age finds that they are still extremely important institutions.

Just how important? People still love to borrow books from the library. A full 80 percent believe that book borrowing is a very important service. And the reference library still holds a warm place in our hearts with 80 percent of respondents believing it also offers a very important service.

When I was cutting my teeth as a journalist, a professor once told my class to be nice to librarians because they are a journalist's best friend, his point being not to take them for granted. Even in the Internet age, reference librarians are a tremendous source of knowledge and can help you find online information sources that you never knew existed.

And for many Americans, the library is their access ramp for the Internet. Most libraries today have a bank of computers and 77 percent of Americans value this access highly. 66 percent reported using these computers for work or school in the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, Americans actually would like to see libraries expand their services to include things like getting answers from librarians online, GPS-style navigation to books and Redbox-style service for checking out books, movies and music.

All these are great ideas and provide ways to keep the library relevant for years to come, and they show a creativity and a willingness to adapt to changing times (not unexpected since librarians as a group tend to be progressive when it comes to trying new ways of doing things).

Not surprising given all the tablets and eReaders out there, 53 percent of Americans would like to see greater access to eBooks. My library offers some and has a pretty decent system for managing your library account online including making requests for books, renewing books and paying fines online.

20 percent of respondents would like to see some books moved out of public spaces to make room for reading areas, public spaces and technology centers (all of which my town library currently has). At the same time, 73 percent of respondents still like to just browse the stacks looking for a book that catches their fancy--I know I do that.

There's lots more in this survey, which involved  2,252 Americans ages 16 and up, and was administered between October 15 and November 10, 2012.

For more information, including additional results:
- see the Pew report

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