Libraries at the Crossroads
Libraries at the Crossroads
BY JOHN B. HORRIGAN
American libraries are buffeted by cross currents. Citizens believe that libraries are important community institutions and profess interest in libraries offering a range of new program possibilities. Yet, even as the public expresses interest
in additional library services, there are signs that the share of Americans visiting libraries has edged downward over the past three years, although it is too soon to know whether or not this is a trend.
A new survey from Pew Research Center brings this complex situation into stark relief. Many Americans say they want public libraries to:
support local education;
serve special constituents such as veterans, active-duty military personnel and immigrants;
help local businesses, job seekers and those upgrading their work skills;
embrace new technologies such as 3-D printers and provide services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry.
Additionally, two-thirds of Americans (65%) ages 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities.
At the same time, the survey finds that the share of Americans who report using a library has ebbed somewhat over the past several years, though it is too early to identify a definitive national trend. Compared with Pew Research Center surveys from recent years, the current survey finds those 16 and older a bit less likely to say they have visited a library or bookmobile in-person in the past 12 months, visited a library website or used a library’s computers and internet access.
46% of all Americans ages 16 and over say they visited a library or a bookmobile in-person in the prior year. This is roughly comparable with the 48% who said this in 2013, but down from 53% in 2012.
22% of those 16 and older have used library websites in the past year, compared with 30% who said this in 2013 and 25% in 2012.
27% of those who have visited a public library have used its computers, internet connection or Wi-Fi signal to go online in the past 12 months. This compares with 31% who said this in 2012.
A trend in the other direction is that mobile access to library resources has taken on more prominence. Among those who have used a public library website, 50% accessed it in the past 12 months using a mobile device such as a tablet computer or smartphone – up from 39% in 2012.
These findings highlight how this is a crossroads moment for libraries. The data paint a complex portrait of disruption and aspiration. There are relatively active constituents who hope libraries will maintain valuable legacy functions such as lending printed books. At the same time, there are those who support the idea that libraries should adapt to a world where more and more information lives in digital form, accessible anytime and anywhere.
The big questions: What should happen to the books? What should happen to the buildings?
Two key questions highlight the challenge library leaders face. First, what should libraries do with their books? Some 30% of those ages 16 and over think libraries should “definitely” move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for such things as tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms and cultural events; 40% say libraries should “maybe” do that; and 25% say libraries should “definitely not” do that.
Since 2012, there has been an uptick of 10 percentage points in those saying libraries should “definitely” move some books and stacks (20% v. 30%) and an 11-point downtick in those saying that should “definitely not” be done (36% v. 25%).
The second key question is: Should bricks-and-mortar libraries have a smaller physical footprint in their communities? A majority do not think so. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those ages 16 and over say libraries should “definitely” have more comfortable spaces for reading, working and relaxing. This represents a modest increase in this view since 2012, and it suggests that libraries still occupy a prominent spot in people’s minds as a place to go.
Here are other key findings that highlight the cross currents in public sentiment. They come from a survey of 2,004 Americans ages 16 and older conducted in the spring of 2015. Large majorities of Americans see libraries as part of the educational ecosystem and as resources for promoting digital and information literacy. Those 16 and older are quite clear that libraries should address the educational needs of their communities at many levels:
85% of Americans say that libraries should “definitely” coordinate with schools in providing resources for children.
85% also say that libraries should “definitely” offer free literacy programs to help kids prepare for school.
78% believe that libraries are effective at promoting literacy and love of reading.
65% maintain that libraries contribute to helping people decide what information they can trust.
People also believe that libraries should offer services to help them master digital technologies:
78% of those 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps.
75% say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies.
People’s view on the important role of libraries in education translates into some user behavior at public libraries. Among those who have used a public library website or mobile app in the past 12 months, 42% have used it for research or homework help. For those who have used a public library’s computers or Wi- Fi signal to go online, 60% have used those tools for research or school work.
Many believe libraries should be pathways to economic opportunity, especially when it comes to providing resources for business development, jobs search and enhancing workforce skills.
These are new questions that Pew Research Center has not previously asked, and they indicate that there is a notable share of the public interested in a somewhat expanded mission for public libraries to contribute to the economic advancement of people and communities.
52% of all Americans 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” create programs for local businesses or entrepreneurs. Another 35% say libraries should “maybe” do this.
45% say that libraries should “definitely” purchase new digital technologies such as 3-D printers to let people explore how to use them. Another 35% say libraries should “maybe” do this.
At the library itself, economic advancement is a meaningful part of some people’s patronage, but less so now than at earlier times in the Great Recession. Some 23% of those who have paid a visit to a library in the past year did so to look for or apply for a job. This is down from the 36% of patrons who used the library this way in 2012.
In addition, some 14% of those who logged on to the internet using a library’s computer or internet connection in the past year did so to acquire job-related skills or to increase their income. That amounts to 3% of the full population of those ages 16 and older.
Many Americans think closing their local public library would affect their communities, and a third say it would have a major impact on them and their families. Some 65% of all those ages 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community; another 24% say it would have a minor impact. In addition, 32% say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on them or their family; another 33% say it would have a minor impact.
Civic activists are more likely to use libraries
In the past year, 23% of Americans ages 16+ say they worked with fellow citizens to address a problem in their community. Among those who have done this:
63% visited the library in the prior year, compared with 40% who had not participated with others in tackling a community problem.
28% attended a meeting at the library in the prior year, compared with 11% who had not worked with others on a community problem.
Some 11% of Americans say they have actively worked with others to influence government policy in the prior year. Among those who did this:
59% paid a visit to the library in the prior year, compared with 44% who had not worked with others in influencing a government policy.
3% had gone to a meeting at the library in the prior year vs. 13% who had not joined with others to influence government.
A majority of Americans say libraries should offer services to help recent immigrants, veterans and active duty military personnel:
74% of Americans ages 16 and older think libraries should “definitely” offer programs for active duty military personnel or veterans. Another 20% say libraries should “maybe” do this.
59% say libraries should “definitely” offer programs for immigrants or first-generation Americans – with 78% of Hispanics saying this. Another 29% of Americans who are 16 or older say libraries should “maybe” offer such programs.
Many view public libraries as important resources for finding health information and some conduct such searches using libraries’ online access resources:
73% of all those ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need.
42% of those who have gone online at a library using its computers, internet connections or Wi-Fi have done so for health-related searches. That comes to 10% of the full population of those ages 16 and older.
Lower-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely to say that libraries impact their lives and communities than other Americans. There are some segments of the population who especially value the library’s role in their community and lives. In many cases, Americans who live in lower-income households, Hispanics and African Americans say libraries have special roles and should embrace new purposes.
For instance, 48% of all Americans 16 and older say libraries help people find jobs “a lot” or “somewhat,” but certain groups are more likely to say libraries help people find jobs:
58% of Hispanics say libraries help people find jobs (either “a lot” or “somewhat”).
55% of African Americans say this.
53% of those in households with annual incomes under $30,000 say this.
Some 52% of those 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” have programs to help local businesses or entrepreneurs. Higher numbers of some groups embrace that idea:
56% of those in low-income households (with annual incomes under $30,000) say this.
60% of African Americans say libraries should have these kinds of business development programs.
60% of Hispanics say libraries should have such programs.
About a third (32%) of all Americans say closing their local public library would have a major impact on them and their family. Those even more likely to back that idea include:
49% of Hispanics who say such closures would have a major impact on them and their families;
37% of low-income Americans who say this;
35% of African Americans who say this about the possible closure of their local public library.
Chapter 1: Who Uses Libraries and What They do at Their Libraries
Libraries are in great flux as information is shifting from the analog age to the digital age, as people’s need to acquire knowledge shifts, and as Americans’ interests in personal enrichment and entertainment are reshaped.
The findings from a new survey by Pew Research Center highlight how this is a crossroads moment for libraries. The data paint a complex portrait of disruption and aspiration. There are relatively active constituents who hope libraries will maintain valuable legacy functions such as lending printed books. At the same time, there are those who support the idea that libraries should adapt to a world where more and more information lives in digital form, accessible anytime and anywhere.
Despite the ferment, Americans remain steady in their beliefs that libraries are important to their community, their family and themselves. Two-thirds (65%) of all of those 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community, similar to the 63% figure recorded in 2013. One-third (32%) say closing their local public library would have a major impact on them or their family – roughly the same as the 29% who said this in 2013.
Concerns about libraries closing do not fall evenly across different segments of Americans. Hispanics, women, parents of minor children and older adults are more likely to say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community than others. Compared with the 65% figure for all of those ages 16 and older:
78% of Hispanics say closing the library would have a major impact on their community.
72% of women say this, compared with 58% of men.
70% of parents of minors assert that a library closure would have a major impact.
70% of those ages 50 and older say closing the library would have a major impact.
When asked to think about how the closure would affect themselves or their families, the patterns are similar to assessments about community impacts. Hispanics, parents and women are more likely to say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on them or their family, as are low-income households.
49% of Hispanics say closing the library would have a major impact on them or their family.
39% of parents of minor children say this.
39% of women (vs. 25% of men) say closing the library would have a major impact on them and their family.
37% of those living in homes with annual incomes of $30,000 or less say the possibility of closing their local public library would have a major impact.
Library users are evident throughout the population
In 2015, 46% of all those ages 16 or older had visited a public library or bookmobile in person during the previous 12 months. This is essentially unchanged since 2013, when 48% said this, but does represent a decline from the 53% of Americans who in 2012 had paid an in-person visit to a public library in the prior year. In the current survey, majorities of women, younger Americans, college graduates and lower-to middle-income Americans have visited a library in the past year-
56% of college graduates paid an in-person visit to a library or bookmobile.
52% of those between the ages of 16 and 29 did this.
52% of those whose annual household income is between $30,000 and $50,000 went to a library in person or visited a bookmobile.
A few things stand out in these data comparing 2015 to 2012. In particular, those on the lower end of the socio-economic stratum – those with less education and household income – have reported larger-than-average declines in library use. Rural Americans and African Americans also have experienced greater declines, as have parents.
As to frequency of library use, among those who had visited a public library in the past year, 56% had done so once a month or more in 2015, with 14% doing so several times a month and 14% visiting on weekly basis. In September 2013, 57% of library users say they went to the public library once a month or more; the comparable figure for 2012 was somewhat higher at 62%.
The most frequent library visitors among library users are Hispanics: 21% say they go to the public library at least once a week, compared with the 14% figure for all respondents.
Who uses library websites
Overall, 22% of those ages 16 and older visited a library website or used a library mobile app in the previous 12 months. That is down somewhat from the 25% who had visited public library websites in the previous 12 months in 2012, and is a drop from the 30% who had visited a library website when we asked in September 2013. Some of the change might have resulted from a modification in the wording of our question.1
Younger and higher educated people are more likely to use libraries virtually (via a website or an app), with 28% of those between the ages of 16 and 29 having used a public library website in the prior year and 34% of those with a college degree having done this.
Between use of library websites and in-person visits to libraries or bookmobiles, half (49%) of all Americans ages 16 or older have had been library users of some sort in the past 12 months. Additionally, four-out-of-five Americans (83%) say they have used the library at some point whether in the past 12 months or longer ago than that.
Awareness of e-book lending by libraries is growing: 6% have borrowed an e-book
People are increasingly aware that they can borrow e-books at their public library. Some 38% say their public library has e-books, compared with 31% who said this in 2012. Those more likely to be aware that their library has e-books are college graduates (52% say they are aware of e-book lending), parents (44%) and those in homes where the annual income is over $75,000 (44%).
It is still the case, though, that almost half of Americans ages 16 and over (46%) do not know if their local library lends e-books. At least 90% of public libraries have e-book lending programs, according to the American Library Association. Those between the ages of 50 and 64 and those with lower levels of educational attainment are a bit more likely to be unaware of e-books for loan.
Some 16% of those who are aware their library lends e-books have downloaded an e-book from their public library – that amounts to 6% of all those ages 16 and older who have borrowed an e-book from their library.
What people do at libraries
For those who have visited a public library in the previous 12 months, traditional activities such as checking out a book or getting help from a librarian are somewhat on the decline.
66% of those who visited a library in the past 12 months say they borrowed print books, compared with 73% who did in 2012.
42% of recent library users have asked the librarian for help, down from 50% in 2012.
At the same time, the number of library users who value the library as a place to simply sit and read, study or access media has increased a little. Some 53% of those who used a library in the past 12 months used it as a reading or studying locale, up from 49% who said this in 2012.
Some 16% of library users in the past year have attended a meeting there, down somewhat from 23% who did this in 2012.
Borrowing printed books is more likely to be the province of the well-off and well-educated: 80% of the library-using college graduates and 76% of those in homes with annual incomes over $75,000 say they did this in the prior year. These figures are well above the 66% result for all Americans ages 16 and older who used a library in the past 12 months. African Americans (50%) and Hispanics (58%) are somewhat less ardent book borrowers.
Getting help from a librarian, by contrast, is something for which the library users with lower household incomes and African Americans are more likely to do. Some 52% of African Americans and 49% of those in homes with annual incomes below $30,000 have done this, compared with 42% of the general library-user population.
And using the library as a place to sit, read, study, or watch or listen to media is something library users who are young, Hispanic and lower-income Americans do more often. Compared with the 53% overall figure for library users, 73% of those in the 16 to 29 age group, 67% of Hispanics and 64% of those whose annual incomes are under $30,000 have done this.
Computers and internet access at libraries are particularly used by African Americans, Hispanics and those in lower-income households
Use of computers, the internet or Wi-Fi connections at libraries is also down slightly since 2012. Among those who have visited a public library in the past 12 months, 27% say they used a computer, internet connection or Wi-Fi there. This compares with the 31% figure recorded in November 2012. As with some other metrics of library use, lower income and minorities are more active in using this type of library resource. The library users who are more likely to have used library technology include:
38% of African Americans who have used the library in the last 12 months have used the computers, the internet or Wi-Fi there
32% of Hispanics have used library computers, the internet or WiFi
31% of those living in homes whose annual incomes are $30,000 or less have used these online resources at the library.
Among those who have used computers, the internet or Wi-Fi at libraries, there are generally modest changes in online use compared with library users in 2012. Doing research for school or work is the most popular activity, with 60% of library technology users doing this in 2015, while 58% check or send texts or emails. Incidences of research at the library using computers, the internet or Wi-Fi is down from 2012, while texting or emailing has increased. As noted, job search is down substantially – 13 percentage points since 2012, perhaps because of the improvement in the job market in the United States since then.
The Pew Research survey this year also explored Wi-Fi use at libraries. Some 6% of those ages 16+ who visited a library in the past year also took advantage of the library’s Wi-Fi when the library was closed.
How people use library websites
Over the past several years, people’s use of library websites for specific purposes has, in some cases, dropped.
Use of electronic resources within libraries’ store of online content has decreased sharply, with incidences of searching library catalogues online and using electronic databases down by over 10 percentage points since 2012 in each case. Using the library’s website to renew books is also down. Other changes from 2012 are more modest, and the differences across samples are not statistically significant.
A portion of people also use the library as a “how to” resource for digital applications that they feel the need to explore. For visitors to public libraries or users of a library’s website or mobile app in the past 12 months:
14% used library resources to learn how to download and use e-books or other digital content.
10% used public library resources to learn how to use apps on smartphones or tablets.
9% sought help from public library resources to figure out how to use social networking applications such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
8% turned to help available through the library to learn how to create digital audio or music.
6% undertook a similar strategy using library resources for learning how to create video.
6% turned to the library or its digital assets to learn how to create software or write computer code for websites, games or apps.
How libraries contribute to communities
Majorities of Americans, as noted, feel that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. The other side of that coin is how people see libraries helping their community in specific ways. For the most part, strong majorities of Americans ages 16 and over say that public libraries help at least somewhat in areas such as acquiring health care information or learning about new technologies.
For seeking health care information and learning new technologies, nearly three quarters of those ages 16 and over think libraries help in these areas. Women, older adults (ages 65 and over) and Hispanics are particularly likely to think libraries help “a lot” in both areas. With respect to learning about health care information, 43% of those ages 65 and older say libraries help “a lot” and 44% of those whose annual household income is $30,000 or below also think this. Some 42% of Hispanics and older adults say libraries help people learn new technologies a lot, as do 38% of those whose income falls below $30,000 annually.
When it comes to community purposes, Hispanics are especially likely to see libraries helping a lot with learning information on community events and volunteer opportunities. 43% of Hispanics say libraries help a lot in communicating information about community events and other resources, and 41% say that about libraries helping convey information about volunteer opportunities. Hispanics are also more likely to say libraries help “a lot” in how people decide what information to trust; 33% say that vs. 24% of all respondents.
Finally, when thinking about libraries’ role in helping people find a job or pursue job training, Hispanics, African Americans and low-income Americans are especially likely to say that libraries help a lot. Compared with the 19% of all those ages 16 and older who say libraries help “a lot” with job search or workforce skills:
34% of Hispanics say this;
26% of those who live in households with annual incomes under $30,000 say this, and;
28% of African Americans say libraries help “a lot” in the job search and workforce skills arena.
We adjusted our question wording in 2015 and that might have affected respondents’ answers. In two previous surveys, the question was whether someone had gone to a library website. In this survey, the question was whether someone used a library website or mobile app. We did this to try to account for the fact that 64% of adults and a majority of teens have smartphones or tablet computers and that there are apps allowing people to access library resources and download e-books and audio books.
Chapter 2: Libraries and Services for Learning, Key Groups and Economic Opportunities
Many see libraries as places of learning and pursuing knowledge. Pew Research Center’s April 2015 survey explored those themes and took an expansive view by asking people how they see libraries as vehicles for economic opportunity and inclusion of various groups that have drawn particular attention from librarians. This scope of inquiry provides insight into how the public sees the library not just as an institution that has a history in their community, but also whether they see libraries as places that might serve groups particularly affected by technological or other cultural changes.
The nearby chart summarizes how Americans ages 16 and older think about changes libraries should consider going forward. The survey asked people to consider “some new things public libraries could do to change how they serve the public.” Here is what they said:
The remainder of this chapter addresses various themes that flow from these views of the public.
Libraries and education
Overwhelming majorities of Americans see education as the foundation of libraries’ mission. Some 85% think that coordinating more closely with local schools in providing resources to children is something libraries should “definitely” do. This is unchanged from a 2012 Pew Research survey. The same share of those ages 16 and older (85%) say that libraries should “definitely” offer free early literacy programs to help prepare kids for school, up slightly from 82% who said this in 2012.
Additionally, 78% think the libraries in their communities are effective in promoting literacy and love of reading among people. Some 36% say libraries are “very effective” at this and 42% say they are “somewhat effective.” Hispanics and blacks (48% and 41% respectively) are more likely than others to say libraries are very effective at promoting literacy and love of reading.
When people go to the library, many do so explicitly for educational advancement. Among those who went to the library in the last 12 months and used library computers, the internet or Wi-Fi, 60% have used those tools to do research for school or work, and 17% have used them for taking an online class or completing an online certification. In addition, 17% did so to attend a class or lecture.
People’s views about libraries and education are not just about schools and basic literacy. Strong majorities of Americans believe libraries have a role in information literacy, with two-thirds (65%) agreeing with the proposition that libraries contribute to helping people decide whether they can trust information – 24% agreed with this “a lot” and 41% agreed “somewhat.” Lower income and less educated Americans are more likely to agree “a lot” that libraries contribute to people’s calculations of trustworthy information; 31% of high school graduates and 30% of those whose annual incomes fall below $30,000 say this. Additionally, 33% of Hispanics say libraries help “a lot” in helping people decide which information warrants trust.
Libraries as providers of resources for immigrants and veterans – and for those who wanttechnology help
People see libraries as more than places to enhance educational and economic opportunities. They also see libraries as important parts of the community fabric in other ways that serve key groups in the community and help those who are not yet fully literate about technology.
The community dimension of inclusion is captured in attitudes about veterans and immigrants. Three-quarters (74%) of all Americans ages 16+ say that creating programs or services for active military personnel or veterans is something libraries should “definitely” do. Furthermore, a strong majority (59%) say that libraries should “definitely” create services or programs for immigrants or first-generation Americans – a larger share than the 52% who say this about programs for local businesses or entrepreneurs. Hispanics are far more likely to say libraries should create programs for immigrants or first generation Americans – 78% do.
As to how Americans value what libraries bring to their communities, 68% of those ages 16 and older say that libraries help people learn about local events and resources in their community; 29% say libraries help “a lot” with this and 39% say they help “somewhat.” Similarly, 63% say libraries help people find out about volunteer activities and other ways people can contribute to their community. About a quarter (24%) say libraries help “a lot” in this regard, while 39% say libraries help “somewhat.”
Beyond technology access, people see libraries as places where they can cultivate digital skills. Some 70% say libraries help people learn how to use new technologies (31% say they help “a lot” and 39% say “somewhat”). More high school graduates (39%) and lower-income households (38% for those in households whose annual income falls below $30,000) say libraries help “a lot” in helping people learn new technologies. And a very strong majority of all Americans – 76% – say that libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to protect their privacy and security online.
Even though people strongly believe in the role of libraries in digital inclusion, relatively few library users actually used libraries for this purpose. Just 7% say they had taken a class on how to use the internet or computers when asked about their use of the library in the past 12 months. In a similar vein, a modest number of online users also turn to libraries for help with digital applications that pertain to institutions they encounter – such as government, banks, schools or other businesses.
For the most part, online users find that engaging with these institutions through the internet or email is easy: 82% say this, with 42% saying it is “very” easy to do this and 40% saying it is “somewhat” easy. When probed about the ease of performing tasks with these institutions through mobile apps, two-thirds say it is easy, with 29% saying it is “very” easy and 37% saying it is “somewhat” easy. To the extent that people do encounter challenges in using these applications – either through email, a web browser on their computer or mobile device – 14% say they have turned to the public library for help on how to carry out tasks.
Libraries, economic opportunity and workforce skills
With the nation still coping with the aftereffects of a severe economic downturn that began around 2007, jobs and business creation remain top of mind for many Americans. The upshot is that roughly half (52%) of all Americans says that public libraries should “definitely” create services or programs for local businesses and entrepreneurs. Hispanics and blacks are more likely to see the value of such programs, as 60% of each think libraries should “definitely” have them.
Additionally, 45% say that purchasing 3-D printers or other digital tools is something libraries should “definitely” do and 35% say it is something libraries should “maybe” consider doing. There is not as much public support for these activities as for others on our list. Some segments of the population are more enthusiastic than others. Those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale are more likely to say libraries should “definitely” invest in these new digital tools. Some 57% of high school graduates say libraries should do this, as do 54% in households with an annual income below $30,000 per year. Additionally, 59% of blacks and 56% of Hispanics think libraries should “definitely” purchase 3-D printers or other digital tools.
People’s use of the library to improve their economic prospects ranges across a variety of different topics, with no single one dominating. Job seeking is the most prevalent activity. Among those who have used a public library’s computers, internet or Wi-Fi connection in the past 12 months, 23% had used one of those things to look for or apply for a job. That is down significantly from 2012, when more than one-third (36%) did so. This change likely reflects the sharp drop in the unemployment rate over that timeframe. The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.7% in November 2012 compared to the 5.4% figure for April 2015.
Building job skills was another theme for library users. Focusing on those who had visited a public library in-person the prior year:
14% sought to acquire job-related skills in order to increase their income.
9% wanted to learn how to start or expand their own business.
9% went to the library to use a 3-D printer or other high-tech device – something related to creativity and self-expression as well as job skills.
Finally, among those who visited a public library in-person in the prior 12 months, 15% had done so in order to search for or apply for a job.
Libraries as centers of civic collaboration
As library usage patterns have unfolded over the past several years, the library’s role as an anchor of civic activity has earned particular attention among advocates and some library leaders. In this survey, we asked about civic activity in two ways. First, we queried whether someone, in the past year, has worked with fellow citizens to solve a community problem. Second, we asked whether respondents had been an active member of a group trying to influence government or public policy in the past 12 months (this excludes activities connected to political parties).
Nearly one-quarter of those ages 16 and over, in the past year, worked with fellow citizens to tackle a problem in their community – 23% say they had. Among this group, 63% visited a library or bookmobile in person in the past year and 33% had used the library’s website. For those who have not had such collaborations with fellow citizens, 40% visited a library or bookmobile in-person in the past year and only 19% had used a library’s website.
A smaller number – 11% – of Americans 16 and older have been an active member of a group seeking to influence government or policy. Among those, 59% have visited a public library or bookmobile in-person in the past year and 39% have used the library’s website. For those not active in such groups, 44% visited a library or bookmobile in the past year and 20% used a library website.
Although the survey did not directly ask whether some of these civic activities took place at the library, there are indications that this happened at least occasionally. Among those who were active in a group trying to influence government or a policy issue, 33% attended a meeting in person of a group to which they belong at a library in the past year. Just 13% of those who were not part of an effort to influence government or policy attended a meeting in person at the library during that time. Similarly, 28% of those who had worked with other community members to address a problem attended a meeting at the library in the past year, compared with 11% of those who did not collaborate with others to address a community problem.
Chapter 3: Lower Income Americans and Communities of Color More Likely to see Libraries as Community Anchors
Americans use of public libraries and generally positive attitudes about them cut broadly across all demographics surveyed. However, for lower-income Americans and those who are members of communities of color, libraries have a special role as places to learn new job skills, explore new digital technologies and provide services to them or their community.
When it comes to economic opportunity, African Americans, Hispanics and those in households with an annual income under $30,000 are more likely to say libraries help people find jobs or pursue job training. Hispanics, in particular, are more likely than the overall population to say libraries help “a lot” or “somewhat” in job pursuits or training by a 58% to 48% margin.These groups are also generally more likely to say libraries should “definitely” create programs that encourage business development or help immigrants or first-generation Americans. As noted, Hispanics feel strongly about libraries’ role in services for immigrants or first-generation Americans.
The pattern also carries over when people think about the library’s role in helping learn about new technologies, find health information or how to decide what information to trust – particularly when focusing on the share of people who say libraries help “a lot” in different realms.
With respect to health searches, low-income Americans are more likely to say libraries help “a lot” in that area (44%), compared with 36% of all respondents. African Americans and Hispanics also exceed the average.
For learning about new technologies, Hispanics and low-income Americans are more likely than the typical respondent to see libraries helping “a lot” as they explore gadgets and applications, with African Americans above the norm to a lesser extent.
Finally, with respect to trust and information online, Hispanics, African Americans and low-income Americans each see libraries helping people discern what information is trustworthy.
It is little surprise, then, that lower-income Americans, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on them or their family. About half (49%) of all Hispanics say closing the library would have a major impact on them or their family – far more than the 32% figure for all respondents.
About This Report / About This Survey
The results reported here come from a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,004 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted from March 17-April 12, 2015 by the Pew Research Center. The survey was conducted on landline phones (n=704) and cellphones (n=1,300) in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. Some of the questions were asked only of some of the respondents and the margin of error on those smaller groups are higher. Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the project from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals. Find related reports online at www.pewresearch.org/internet
John Horrigan, Senior Researcher Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science, and Technology Research Andrew Perrin, Research Assistant Maeve Duggan, Research Associate Aaron Smith, Associate Director, Research Shannon Greenwood, Assistant Digital Producer Margaret Porteus, Information Graphics Designer Dana Page, Senior Communications Manager
The Pew Research Center Libraries 2015 Survey obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative probability sample of 2,004 people ages 16 and older living in the United States. Interviews were conducted via landline (nLL=704) and cell phone (nC=1,300; including 760 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). The interviews were administered in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from March 17 – April 12, 2015. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±2.4 percentage points. Results based on the 1,718 internet users/digital connectors2 have a margin of sampling error of ±2.6 percentage points.
Details on the design, execution and analysis of the survey are discussed below.
DESIGN AND DATA COLLECTION PROCEDURES
A combination of landline and cellular random digit dial (RDD) samples was used to represent all adults in the United States who have access to either a landline or cellular telephone. Both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International, LLC (SSI) according to PSRAI specifications.
Numbers for the landline sample were drawn with equal probabilities from active blocks (area code + exchange + two-digit block number) that contained one or more residential directory listings. The cellular sample was not list-assisted, but was drawn through a systematic sampling from dedicated wireless 100-blocks and shared service 100-blocks with no directory-listed landline numbers.
Interviews were conducted from March 17 – April 12, 2015. As many as seven attempts were made to contact every sampled telephone number. Sample was released for interviewing in replicates, which are representative subsamples of the larger sample. Using replicates to control the release of sample ensures that complete call procedures are followed for the entire sample. Calls were staggered over times of day and days of the week to maximize the chance of making contact with potential respondents. Interviewing was spread as evenly as possible across the days in field. When necessary, each telephone number was called at least one time during the day in an attempt to complete an interview.
For the landline sample, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest male or female ages 16 or older currently at home based on a random rotation of gender. If no male or female was available, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest person ages 16 or older of the other gender. This systematic respondent selection technique has been shown to produce samples that closely mirror the population in terms of age and gender when combined with cellphone interviewing.
For the cellular sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone. Interviewers verified that the person was ages 16 or older and in a safe place before administering the survey. Cellular respondents were offered a post-paid cash reimbursement for their participation.
Weighting and analysis
Weighting is generally used in survey analysis to compensate for sample designs and patterns of non-response that might bias results. The sample was weighted to match national population parameters for ages 16 or older. A two-stage weighting procedure was used to weight this dual-frame sample.
The first stage of weighting corrected for different probabilities of selection associated with the number of adults in each household and each respondent’s telephone usage patterns. This weighting also adjusts for the overlapping landline and cell sample frames and the relative sizes of each frame and each sample.
The first-stage weight for the ith case can be expressed as:
Where SLL = the size of the landline sample
FLL = the size of the landline sample frame
SCP = the size of the cell sample
FCP = the size of the cell sample frame
ADi = Number of adults in household i
LLi=1 if respondent has a landline phone, otherwise LL=0.
CPi=1 if respondent has a cell phone, otherwise CP=0.
The second stage of weighting balances sample demographics to population parameters. The sample is balanced by form to match national population parameters for sex, age, education, race, Hispanic origin, region (U.S. Census definitions), population density and telephone usage. The Hispanic origin was split out based on nativity: U.S born and non-U.S. born. The White, non-Hispanic subgroup was also balanced on age, education and region.
The basic weighting parameters came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey data. The population density parameter was derived from Census 2010 data. The telephone usage parameter came from an analysis of the January-June 2014 National Health Interview Survey.
Weighting was accomplished using Sample Balancing, a special iterative sample weighting program that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables using a statistical technique called the Deming Algorithm. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the demographic characteristics of the sample closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the national population.
Table 1 compares weighted and unweighted sample distributions to population parameters.
Effects of Sample Design on Statistical Inference
Post-data collection statistical adjustments require analysis procedures that reflect departures from simple random sampling. PSRAI calculates the effects of these design features so that an appropriate adjustment can be incorporated into tests of statistical significance when using these data. The so-called “design effect” or deff represents the loss in statistical efficiency that results from systematic non-response. The total sample design effect for this survey is 1.20.
PSRAI calculates the composite design effect for a sample of size n, with each case having a weight, wi as:
In a wide range of situations, the adjusted standard error of a statistic should be calculated by multiplying the usual formula by the square root of the design effect (√deff ). Thus, the formula for computing the 95% confidence interval around a percentage is:
where is the sample estimate and n is the unweighted number of sample cases in the group being considered.
The survey’s margin of error is the largest 95% confidence interval for any estimated proportion based on the total sample — the one around 50%. For example, the margin of error for the entire sample is ±2.4 percentage points. This means that in 95 out every 100 samples drawn using the same methodology, estimated proportions based on the entire sample will be no more than 2.4 percentage points away from their true values in the population. The margin of error for estimates based on form 1 or form 2 respondents is ±3.4 percentage points. It is important to remember that sampling fluctuations are only one possible source of error in a survey estimate. Other sources, such as respondent selection bias, questionnaire wording and reporting inaccuracy, may contribute additional error of greater or lesser magnitude.
Table 2 reports the disposition of all sampled telephone numbers ever dialed from the original telephone number samples. The response rate estimates the fraction of all eligible sample that was ultimately interviewed. Response rates are computed according to American Association of Public Opinion Research standards. Thus the response rate for the land line samples was 6%. The response rate for the cellular samples was 6%.
Internet user is defined as those who access the internet occasionally, send or receive email, access the internet on a cell phone, tablet, or other mobile handheld device, and/or use a social media site or mobile app. i.e., whether respondents have only a landline telephone, only a cell phone, or both kinds of telephone.
ACS analysis was based on all people ages 16 and older excluding those living in institutional group quarters (GCs).
Blumberg SJ, Luke JV. Wireless substitution: Early release of estimates from the National Health
Interview Survey, January-June, 2014. National Center for Health Statistics. Dec 2014.
The phone use parameter used for this 16+ sample is the same as the parameter we use for all 18+ surveys. No adjustment was made to account for the fact that the target population for this survey is slightly different than a standard 18+ general population survey.
The American Association for Public Opinion Research. 2011. Standard Definitions: Final Dispositions of Case Codes and Outcome Rates for Surveys. 7th edition. AAPOR.