Report: Public libraries and printed books still big with younger generation

A recent report from the Pew Research Center offers encouraging news for the future of print media and public libraries: Americans ages 16-30 are more likely than older library patrons to have read a printed book in the past year. They are also more likely to use the physical spaces provided by a public library, and borrow print material at similar rates to older Americans, the study found.


Kathryn Zickuhr, research analyst at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and a co-author of the report, said in a release that the traditional functions of a library are still key, even for a generation brought up on digital media.

“Younger Americans’ reading habits and library use are still anchored by the printed page,” Zickuhr said in the release. “Some of this stems from the demands of school or work, yet some likely lies in their current personal preferences. And this group’s priorities and expectations for libraries likewise reflect a mix of traditional and technological services.”

The survey also revealed good news for librarians: 80 percent of young Americans say it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians to help people find information they need, a figure that matched up with responses from the over-30 crowd (81 percent).

Less surprisingly, the study found that younger visitors to the library are more likely to use the library’s internet services and research resources such as databases.

Some statistics from the study:

• 85 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds read at least one print book in the past year.

• 75 percent of those under 30 said it is “very important” for libraries to offer books for people to borrow, and 72 percent say quiet study spaces are “very important”

• 60 percent of younger patrons say they use the physical space of the library as a place to read, study, or go online, compared to 45 percent of those ages 30 and older.

• 44 percent of library visitors under age 30 have used a library’s computers, the Internet, or a public WI-FI network, compared with 27 percent of those ages 30 and older.

The study analyzed responses about library use from three specific age groups: 16-17 year-olds, 18-24 year-olds, and 25-29 year-olds. The findings are based on a survey of 2,252 Americans conducted in the fall of 2012. The margin of error for the full survey is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The report is part of a broader effort by the Pew Internet Project to explore the role libraries play in people’s lives and communities, research that is underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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