December 30, 2007

Information Searches That Solve Problems

Chapter 3: Who goes to Public Libraries?

The profile of public library users is similar to that of internet users.

Although the internet is increasingly important as a source of information for a majority of Americans, most adults still use libraries. Some 53% reported going to a local public library in the past 12 months.8

The profile of public library users is similar to that of internet users. Those who visited libraries in the past year tend to be younger adults, with higher incomes, who have attended college. There are no significant differences in library usage by race and ethnicity. Those who use the libraries are more likely to make use of many sources of information, of which the public library is just one. Those who do not use libraries use fewer other sources of information as well.

By age, library use peaks among the young and then declines slowly, with a distinct drop-off after about age 50 years.

Public Library Use by Generation

Fifty-nine percent of those with incomes of more than $40,000 a year say they have visited a public library; by contrast 48% of those with incomes of less than $40,000 a year say they have gone to the library. Some 61% of those who use the internet have gone to libraries in the past year, compared with only 28% of those who do not use the internet.

One notable finding is that household income is a less powerful predictor of library use than access to the internet is.

Percent Using Libraries by Income and Internet Access

This is not to say that internet access is the cause of library use: rather, having low-access to the internet is strong proxy for having limited access to or, perhaps, recognizing the need for information.

The greater one’s level of educational achievement, the more likely one is to go the library. For example, 44% of those with only a high school diploma have gone to the library recently, compared with 57% of those who have attended college, but have not received a degree. Fully 68% of those with at least a college degree have been to a library in the past year.

Public libraries remain attractive for parents with minor-age children. More than three in five parents with children at home (63%) say they have been to the library, compared with less than half (48%) of those without children at home.

Convenience is one of the determinants of going to a public library. Seventy percent of all adults say there is a public library within two miles of their home, while 28% say there is not a library close at hand. Among those with a library nearby, 58% say they have visited the library recently. Among those who say there is not a library within two miles, 42% say they have visited the library.

In perhaps another perspective on the role of convenience, among those with a disability, only 46% say they have been to the library. Among those without a disability, 55% have been to the library in the past year.

  1. We know from earlier work that respondents overreport having a library card by about 20%, (See Locander, W., Sudman, S., & Bradburn, N., (1976). An investigation of interview method, threat and response distortion. Journal of American Statistical Association, 71 (354), 269‑275).