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Libraries and Perpetual Learning: The Thursday Keynote

Libraries and Perpetual Learning

Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project, presented some of Pew’s new research lin his keynote address on Thursday . Pew describes itself as a “fact tank” and does not make predictions or suggestions. They have received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to look at libraries; here are some of the highlights:

Previous findings

The major things that people value about libraries are:

  • Getting “free” books,
  • Librarians who can help them to research questions in their lives,
  • Being a wonderful place of solitude, and
  • Their computers for public use.

Physical visitations to libraries have declined slightly over the past 3 years, and usage of library websites has risen. People who use libraries tend to have higher levels of education; women are more likely to be library users than men; and parents of minor children are highly enthusiastic. People under age 65 are more likely to use libraries than those over 65.

These data show that if the library closed, many people would be devastated, more on behalf of the community than themselves.

If the library closed

Libraries contribute to their communities in a variety of ways:

Library contributions to communities

Many Americans see libraries as part of the educational ecosystem and as resources for promoting digital and information literacy. One question that Pew researchers asked was “Should libraries move print books and stacks out of public locations to free space for tech centers, reading rooms, cultural events, etc.?” The general feeling not to do this has decreased; 30% now say libraries should make this change (up from 25%). The public is giving libraries permission to be flexible.

85% of survey respondents said that libraries should coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to children. They feel that libraries are wonderful problem solvers and are creative with the resources they have.

Mastering digital technology (such as basics of the internet, or learning how to use a smartphone) is one of the keys to success in the future. Concerns that people expressed were how to present themselves, keep their data secure, and keep from spending too much time on the internet. 78% of survey respondents said that libraries should offer programs to teach people, including kids and senior citizens, how to use digital tools. This is important now because people think education matters and they should be attuned more to lifelong learning.

Learning as an identity: 73% of Americans think of themselves as lifelong learners, 61% said they gather as much information as they can when they come across something unfamiliar, and 57% look for new opportunities to grow as a person. They think of libraries as potential allies in this effort. 74% of all adults are personal enrichment learners; here are some of the things they do:

What learners do

And here is why they did it


63% of adults are work-related learners:

Work-Related Learners

How are libraries performing in this new environment? How well do they serve the educational needs of the local community.  37% said “very well” and 39% said “pretty well”.

What does the local library provide?

Library Services

Although 62% of the respondents said they knew that their library offers e-books for borrowing, that means 38% did not know. Libraries still need to do some education in the community.

Should libraries offer programs to protect people’s privacy and security online? 76% say that they definitely should, which shows that there is a deep-seated concern about privacy of data and a sense that we are losing control of it. 64% say libraries should have more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing at the library.

Libraries have 3 dimensions:

  • People: Serve and Learn: The role of the library may expand. Most people have a sense that librarians are good at helping people. There is a hope  that librarians are the “rock stars” of the knowledge economy and understand the trends that are emerging.
  • Place: Reconfigured and repurposed.  The IoT will be a challenge. Everything you have becomes a repository of the community. Every book can become something where people gather.  Buildings will have some dimensions of the IoT brought into them. When people want to get together, the library will be the first place they will go because libraries are open, safe, and encouraging. They can fill in market niches or “market holes”, be makerspaces, and community information stewards. There is a concern that communities will will be affected as newspapers cease to provide coverage of local events, so libraries can fulfill that role by providing civic information, coverage of city hall, etc.
  • Platform: Libraries can be a Community Resource: a trusted institution for learning; an advocate for free, open, and closing digital divides; a privacy watchdog; and a civic specialist.

Rainie concluded by echoing his conclusion from last night’s session: don’t be afraid of the disruption you are going through. Many other institutions do not have the means you do; keep your voices up.

Don Hawkins

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