How will libraries change? Who will use and support them?
A new update from Pew Research suggests that while most Americans value libraries, certain populations are more likely to support them than others, especially when it comes to learning from them.
First, there are clear generational differences in who values libraries. Generally, the younger the American, the more positive they are; the older, the less.
A large majority of Millennials (87%) say the library helps them find information that is trustworthy and reliable, compared with 74% of Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70) who say the same. More than eight-in-ten Millennials (85%) credit libraries with helping them learn new things, compared with 72% of Boomers. And just under two-thirds (63%) of Millennials say the library helps them get information that assists with decisions they have to make, compared with 55% of Boomers.
Presumably a key part of Millennial library positivity involves their being the most involved in child-rearing. Do any library professionals have an explanation about the older generations’ declining love for libraries? Is this a durable pattern?
Second, nonwhite Americans, especially Latinos, are more likely to approve of libraries for learning about information and technology:
That racial breakdown seems consistent across a variety of registers:
Note that whites are less pro-library than the national average.
Third, women “slightly” outpace men in their support for libraries, as you can see in the preceding graph.
Women are somewhat more likely than men to report that libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable (82% vs. 75%), learn new things (80% vs. 73%), grow as a person (69% vs. 61%), focus on things that matter in their lives (54% vs. 44%) and cope with a busy world (47% vs. 38%).
Fourth, education is a predictor, but in an inverse way, with more education meaning less friendly attitudes towards libraries: “Similarly, those with less than a high school diploma are more likely than those with at least a bachelor’s degree to think training would help.”
Those with less than a high school diploma are more likely than college graduates to say libraries help them in several areas: helping them focus on things that matter in their lives (63% vs. 46%), coping with a busy world (55% vs. 37%), coping with a world where it is hard to get ahead (54% vs. 30%) and protecting their personal data from online theft (48% vs. 18%).
This research brings to mind some questions about the future of libraries.
Are libraries society’s counterbalance to higher education?
How can libraries better serve these younger, nonwhite populations? Surely this makes library staff diversity an especially important topic (cf Ithaka S&R’s recent study about academic library leadership). Conversely, should public libraries conduct outreach towards older white people (who tend to be wealthier than the rest) in order to ward off defunding?
Do libraries now have enough public support to lead the way in digital literacy?
At another level, I’m impressed at how this Pew report reflects on the idea that libraries are outmoded in the digital age. They might be – for some Americans.