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Technology and Library Customers’ Needs: The Thursday Keynote

Jane Dysart and Lee Rainie

Jane Dysart and Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science, and Technology Research, Pew Research Center, and a frequent and popular speaker at CIL conferences, presented the final day’s keynote address: “Where technology fits with library patrons’ needs”.  The Onion regularly makes fun of Pew and puts up some parodies of its results. Click here to see Pew’s previous research on libraries.

There is a deep decline in trust in many organizations, but libraries have bucked that trend. People like and trust librarians and think that libraries are important, especially for communities. They think that libraries level the playing field for those without vast resources. Librares have re-branded themselves as technology hubs and are deeply appreciative of these changes. People still read books and like printed books more than e-books, by a 3 to 1 margin.

Here is some of Pew’s latest data on libraries from its 2016 study:

  • Over 40% of users used a library or bookmobile in the last 12 months. About 1/3 of them–more women than men and more younger people–used the library’s website.
  • Traditional activities like borrowing books or reading dominate library use, but people are also attending classes or other programs (class use was the activity that increased the most from 2015 to 2016).
  • Doing research or checking email are the most frequent uses of library technology resources, but more people are using them to take classes online than last year.

Here are some new research findings drawn from polls and focus groups.

New Research Results

Factors shaping people’s information interests include access to and use of libraries, personal tastes, trust in information sources, a personal growth mindset, life circumstances and time horizons, and access to information technology. People most engaged with information and bringing it into their lives are thinking more about the future. Thinking like a networker is an important thing for libraries to do.

Libraries are curators of the better quality of information, along with health care providers, family and friends. Social media is the least trustworthy.

Information users can be characterized in these five clusters:

  • The information wary (1/4 of the population): people with low levels of interest in info and low levels of trust in information sources. They don’t exhibit much interest in acquiring digital skills. This group is male-dominated, older, and not parents of minor children.
  • Information addled (1/4 of the population) have a fairly typical level of interest in information and visit the library on a par with others. But they have low levels of trust in information sources, especially news organizations. They are multitaskers, have trouble relaxing, and have little interest in improving their information literacy. They are male, suburban, and are better-off households.
  • Cautious and curious (1/8 of population) have an interest in information but not a lot of time or attention to pursue it. They have below average levels of trust in information but a high level of interest in acquiring digital skills. They could become more interested in pursuing information. Clearing trust hurdles is part of it; we need more time and attention to do this.
  • Eager and willing (1/5 of population) has the highest levels of interest in news and information, and a high degree of trust in information sources. They trust family and friends plus libraries and librarians as information sources but do not have an abundance of digital information access tools; over half of them report difficulty finding information online. They have a high degree of interest in training on digital skills and wish that a public library were closer to home and had expanded hours. They are mostly female; the majority of them are minorities, relatively young, and least well educated.
  • Information confident (1 in 6) have the highest levels of trust in information sources, above average interest in news with particular emphasis on government, politics, and foreign affairs. They have a lot of technology and don’t feel they need additional training in digital skills or how to determine the veracity of information for making decisions. This is a population that librarians should cherish. Many of them are mommy bloggers who write about school events, community zoning projects, etc. Many are equally male and female, white, young, and better educated.

Many people overwhelmingly say the library helps them.  Finding trustworthy information is highly important, followed by learning new things, personal growth, and getting information to help in making decisions. Help given by libraries in focusing on things mattering in their life, coping with a busy world or a world where it is hard to get ahead, or protecting personal data from online thieves is not as important. 77% say the local library provides them with the resources they need.

Providing a safe place for people to spend time is extremely important. They also value the creation of educational opportunities for people of all ages, sparking creativity in young people, and serving as a gathering place for addressing challenges in the local community. 56% say it would have a major impact on the community if the library closed.

85% of people say that libraries should coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to kids. 73% of people think of themselves as lifelong learners and want to learn something to make their lives more interesting or something that would allow them to help others. 33% want to learn something to help with their children’s school work. 34% say libraries serve the learning and educational needs of them and their family.

The Aspen Institute report on the future of libraries did a survey and found that libraries are pathfinders for trusted information, and curators and arbiters of it. Libraries are technology and data experts, master teachers in an age of lifelong learning, and visionaries for the knowledge economy and the jobs it produces.

Nobody has had to reinvent themselves more than libraries in the past few years. They have needed to reconfigure and re-purpose themselves and become community resources. In the future, they should embrace the Internet of Things, become the “first place” to meet, fill in “market holes” or niches in the information marketplace, and become innovation test beds. Become trusted, top of mind institutions for learning, advocates for free and open, and closing digital divides, and privacy and algorithms watchdogs.

Libraries touch every part of our culture. It is a lifelong mission. So it’s scary to be in this environment, but fear not and thank you for being there.

Here is a video of some of the highlights of Lee’s talk.


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