Thursday, January 24, 2013

Libraries in the digital age study

The importance of libraries in the digital age has been a hotly debated topic in recent years.  Many people think that with all the digital technology available, libraries are not needed as much as they used to be.  My husband, a computer programmer, always tells me that Google is going to replace librarians. As a librarian, I totally disagree with this, and I think that libraries are more important than ever.  A new study from PewInternet (study found from this article from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) found the following:

  • 80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
  • 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
  • 77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
  • 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities.
I am not at all surprised by those statistics, but some people (including my husband) might be.    Is there any other public service that 91% of Americans can agree on?  I certainly can't think of anything.  I am also not surprised by these stats:
  • 22% say that they know all or most of the services their libraries offer now. 
  • 46% say they know some of what their libraries offer 
  • 31% said they know not much or nothing at all of what their libraries offer.
Today's libraries, especially larger city library systems, offer so many different programs and services.  The study has some other good suggestions on how to improve library services and things that they can implement.  The first step is to make the community known what their library can do for them.  Despite the fact that Americans think the library is important, the study found that only 53% visited a library in the past year.  I think part of this has to do with library anxiety.  As the stats above state, people don't know what libraries can offer them, and they are afraid to go ask if they need help.  Even as a librarian, I have experienced some library anxiety.  I need to print out my resume, but I don't have a printer at home.  I know I can go to the library and do it, but I haven't because I don't know how the system works to get on the computers and print something.  My local library is the central branch of a large city system, and it can be overwhelming because it is so large.  

Overall, I think this study shows that libraries are still relevant, and more importantly, are still important to the community.  What we as librarians need to keep doing is to figure out how to get more people in the library and to let them know what services we can offer them.


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