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Internet Librarian 2013 – The New Library Patron

Lee Rainie

Rainie’s slides are up at

Rainie summed up his presentation as 5 points (supported by a veritable butt-ton of statistics from Pew, as we have come to lovingly expect from Rainie).

1. Libraries are deeply appreciated, especially for their community impact.

91% of people say libraries are important to their communities and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.  People are significantly more concerned about the library’s impact on their community than on their own family (when asked what the impact would be if the local public library closed).  People have more confidence in us and think we’re more important than the military, small businesses, the police, and the church (among a whole slew of other institutions including, interestingly, public schools).  Firefighters and nurses are the only two institutions that rival the library’s public reputation and trust.  Rainie recommends having libraries challenge the local firefighters to tug-of-wars and trivia contests.  We’d lose one and win one 😉  People like librarians a lot too.  98% of people who ever visited a library say that their interactions with librarians are very or mostly positive.  81% of people say we’re very helpful.  50% of people got help from a librarian last year.  No other public institution has that level of everyday interaction with the community.  Our rebranding of ourselves as tech hubs has been slow going, but now 77% of people say free access to the computers and internet is a very important library service (compared with 80% who say the same things about both books and reference librarians). But then an equal number of people say that the library’s function as a quiet study space is very important.  26% of people surveyed use in-library computers, and here’s what they do with them: research for school or work, browse the internet for fun, use email, get health information, visit government websites, looked for and applied for jobs, social networking, online video, online retail, paid bills, and taking online classes.  Libraries are a platform as well as a place for interesting people.

2. Libraries have a PR problem.

People don’t know what we have and what we do.  Half of people surveyed say they know some of what is going on at the library. 30% know not much or nothing at all of what libraries offer.  Rainie says these numbers should distress us.  There are ways for us to address this knowledge gap though.  Library non-users are primed to listen.  They like us, they read books, and they have at one point or another visited a library.  We have to start selling ourselves in ways we never used to have to do, and perhaps are uncomfortable with.

3. Library patrons are diverse, but there are some groups who are quite removed from the library world.

Library users are largely women, are not 65+ (Rainie highlighted that seniors are less likely to have been a recent library user, something that runs counter to my own intuition—I want to know more about that…), have completed some college or graduate school, and are parents.  Parents over-index on everything.  They use every type of service than anyone else, they are more likely to say we’re important, etc.  Job 1 for us should be evangelizing to parents—find the mommy bloggers! Who uses library websites? Those same groups, but at a slightly lower percentage point.  Rural users are somewhat less likely to have visited the library or used the library website.  Top reason library use increased for people = enjoy taking their children or grandchildren.  Top reason library use decreased for people = they can get books, do research online, and the internet is more convenient.  Sometimes getting an eReader drives people to use the library more.  There is a large detached population out there that should matter to libraries.  44% say no one else in their households uses the library, 39% don’t have library cards, 33% say if the library closed it would not have an impact on them, 20% never remember family members visiting the library when they were growing up, 19% have never visited a library, 16% didn’t read a book in the last year, and 9% don’t know where the nearest library is.  In early 2014 Pew will be doing a new library survey – What kind of library user are you?  This survey will go beyond demographics and look at people as information and technology consumers.  A quiz widget will be forthcoming to help librarians gather local data (look for that soon-w00t!)

4. Patrons’ “wish list” for new services is extensive and pretty undifferentiated.

The most enthusiastic people for new tech-based services are women, non-internet users, African Americans, Latinos, Spanish-speakers, parents of minors, and urban residents. (Sarah’s note: Umm, that’s most of my population then….Right-o).  People were asked if the library should move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for things like tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events.  The response to this was mixed…  The people who adore us and are our regular users said “NO!” while our non-users are the ones who are asking us to do it.  As Rainie said, this is our biggest dilemma summed up in one sentence.  It’s difficult for innovators to abandon our customer base in order to innovate. Why screw around with our users?  Disruptive sources…disruptive sources, son.  Raine recommended two books: The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution.  The second book states that in order to truly innovate in institutions that have deep pockets of resistance to change, you have to set up a skunkworks, a separate parallel institution, in order to facilitate any real innovation. Word.  Users would like the most from us (in terms of new servies): online ask-a-librarian services, cell phone apps for library services, tech petting zoos, GPS app to navigate the library, kiosks for library checkouts around town, personalized recommendations, classes on downloading eBooks, pre-loaded eBook readers, digital media labs, and instruction on using eReading devices.  African Americans and Latinos are especially enthusiastic about libraries offering these new services.

5. Libraries have a mandate to intervene in community life.

These are big numbers! 77% of people think libraries should coordinate more closely with local schools to provide resources to kids.  77% also think libraries should offer free early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school.  Part of this is the affection for libraries and librarians, but people also think the library has some “secret sauce” that the local schools don’t (they trust us more).  Libraries are at once people, place, and platform.  Some examples of market and cultural shortcomings libraries are (and could) address: technology non-users/skills training in new literacies, pre-school programs, after school activities, English as a Second Language issues, lifelong learning opportunities and credentialing competency, fill gaps in local media ecosystems by performing community and civic information curation, help small businesses and non-profits, and be serendipity agents of discovery (as people set up more filters for information they miss out on serendipitous discovery…which we can help with).

“Internet Librarian 2013 – The New Library Patron”

  1. RT Says:

    Very complete write-up. I don’t know how you manage to get all your notes together — with reactions and comments — within minutes of the end of the session.

    One small correction: Lee’s last name is spelled Rainie.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Thanks RT! It’s called typing freakinshly fast 😉 And thanks on the spelling correction. Stupid auto-correct.

  3. Candy Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I no that this is an older post but I am new to library blogs and I can’t believe it has taken me three years to become more involved in the library world. I am very interested in purchasing the two books that you have recommended and I and totally interested in how we can engage users and the community to become more involved in the library, particularly with developing technology.

    I was wondering if there were any other books or resources that you may suggest specifically for public libraries ( I am in Australia, but of course it doesn’t have to be limited to Australia).

    I love reading your posts thank you so much for your information…


  4. Sarah Says:

    Candy, what are you trying to learn about public libraries? That might help me recommend some books…

  5. Candy Says:

    Hi Sarah

    I think mainly how we can engage patrons, particularly the 25-40 year olds into the library. Also new innovations with technology and creating an inviting space. I hope this makes sense.

  6. Sarah Says:

    Those are a lot of different topics. You may want to try browsing ALA Editions to see what grabs you: ITI would be another imprint to look at:

  7. Candy Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you so much this was very helpful. My main interest is in library innovation so i have managed to find some good resources.

    Thank you,

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