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Opening Keynote: Lee Raine of the Pew Internet and American Life Project

Raine opened his talk by citing some of the blogosphere comments on his past conferences.  He was trying to make a point about blogging being an important communication and community-building tool.  Raine noted some of the statistics that they gather regularly.  In the industrial age, information used to be scarce, expensive, and institutionally oriented.  In the information age, information is abundant, cheap, and personally oriented.  In March of 2000, they found that 56% of adults used the internet, 5% had broadband at home, 50% owned a cell phone, and 0% connected to the internet wirelessly.  In 2008, 75% of adults use the internet, 54% have broadband at home, 78% own a cell phone, and 62% connect to the internet wirelessly.  What a huge difference, especially (to me) the connectivity differences – broadband and wireless.  The cell phone users of the internet are more likely to come from households with lower incomes, have lower levels of education, and be minorities.  Raine’s conclusion is that wireless is bridging the digital divide.  In addition, the usage of email, as well as news sites, goes up with wireless connectivity.

Raine highlighted the changing media ecology – people are using the internet to store things (photos, social networking information and contacts, documents, etc.).  That changes the way people think about information and their access to it.  Also, 62% of young adult internet users have uploaded photos to the internet, and 34% of all users have done this.  58% of online teens have created their own profile on a social network site and 33% of adults have such profiles.  This brings up the question of whether or not the presence of adults in these spaces will make them "uncool" for the younger, original users.  26% of young adults have created webpages or blogs for others, and 13% of online adults do this.  33% of college students keep blogs and regularly post, and 12% of online adults have a blog.  54%of college students read blogs and 35% of online adults read them.  How to distinguish a blog from other types of websites is difficult – people are reading blogs, or even posting to them, and they don’t necessarily think of what they are doing in that way (e.g. MySpace blogs, news blogs).  19% of online young adults have created an avatar that interacts with others online and 6% of online adults have. 

Raine then highlighted some new research sponsored by IMLS and done in partnership with the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (boo-yah, my alma mater).  The study was published at the very end of 2007: "Information Searches that Solve Problems: how people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help" (you can read my post on it here).  They asked people about 10 potential problems that happened in their life in the past two years (e.g. voter registration, taxes, school info, local government, immigration, social security).  70.5% had experienced at least one problem in the past two years.  Then, for whichever questions they said "yes" to, they were asked additional questions: they were asked about their patronage of various institutions, including libraries.  53% of American adults had been to a library in the past year.  Once you start unpacking that number, it gets more interesting.  Younger adults were the most likely to have been library visitors (Gen Y, 18-30 = 62% had visited a library in the past year).  Gen X=59%, Trailing Boomers -57%, Leading Boomers=46%, Matures=42%. 

***Raine broke some news to us that isn’t out yet: 60% of online teens use the internet at libraries, up from 36% in 2000.  This is amazing!  Wow…***

Those who visit the library are more likely to be internet users than non users, more likely to have lower levels of education and to be in a lower socioeconomic strata.  Those who are interent users are more likely to participate in other sorts of information interactions.  There is no difference in the patronage of libraries based on race and ethnicity. 

When asked what sources they used when they did research about their most recent problem, internet use was the #1 answer across the totality of the problems.  Next came professionals, then friends and family members, then printed publications, then government offices, television and radio, and then (at 13%) they went to a library.   It was more likely that young people, rather than older people, went to a library for help.  Young adults were at 21%, people over 70 were at 15%, blacks were at 26%, Latinos at 22%, and lower income at 17%.  It’s important to note that only English-speaking people were surveyed for this study.  To me, that  reduces the validity of the survey, especially the numbers and conclusions about the digital divide.  In my experience, recent immigrants and non-English speakers are more likely to not have computer access or internet access, much less modern information-seeking and web 2.0 skills.

Once people were at the library, 69% of them got help from library staff, 68% used computers, 38% got one-on-one instruction, 58% sought reference materials, and 42% used newspapers and magazines.  What we can take away from that is that people use the wide range of options libraries present them for finding information.  Raine concludes that young people see and use libraries differently because they have had recent experiences in libraries through schooling, etc., and are likely to have had good experiences and remember that libraries have technology and expertise that they need. 

Final take-aways: 53% is the library’s market share for information seeking.  However, libraries need to start with public education about libraries: how we’ve changed, what we do, and what we have to offer.  The people who use the library are likely to come back, and that is always a compliment.  Our patrons are happy and some are zealous advocates.  This is the era of consumer evangelists with all of the user-generated content online.  Give these people Web 2.0 tools and training if necessary.  Get their feedback!  Un-patrons are primed to seek us out, as well.  The people who might be more dependent on libraries for help are aware of what we have, and to get their patronage we need to ensure awareness of what we offer, offer a comfortable environment, and mentoring skills.  Libraries should aspire to become a node in people’s social networks.  We know that social networks aid discovery and learning, finding out how to navigate through the clutter of material in our lives, and for gaining social support and finding help for solving problems.  Finally, we need to offer our expertise in new literacies: context, navigation, graphic literacy.

“Computers in Libraries 2008: Lee Raine’s Opening Keynote”

  1. Almost Bald Geek Says:

    Sarah, thanks for blogging the keynote. Now I feel less guilty about missing the presentation. Thanks a bunch.

  2. Brogan Keane Says:

    This is an interesting article, it really highlights a problem with adult social networks.

    There’s been a lot of growth in adult use of social networks in the past few years, but what’s interesting is that the majority of adults tend to use social networks geared towards teenagers. Look at adoption of versus 35+ users on Myspace or Facebook.

    There needs to be a fundamental shift in what adults look for in social networks, we as a demographic and age group want different things out of social networks.

    Read my post at to find more details. I broke down the problems associated with current social networks and why they are not fundamentally appealing to social networks.

    Hope this helps Sarah!


    Brogan Keane

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