According to a Reuters article reporting a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, Americans are “tepid about libraries.” More people try to buy locally produced food than regularly use their library, though it seems public libraries have slightly more support than George W. Bush would were he running against Obama for President, and that’s something I guess.
From the article: “libraries, apparently, are on the wane. Two thirds of people said they never go to the library, or do so only once or twice a year.”
What are we to make of that?
I guess one question is what makes anyone think libraries are “on the wane” when there was no comparative historical data. It could be that two thirds of Americans have never used public libraries much.
We could also reverse the phrasing of the report. One third of Americans say they go to their public libraries more than once or twice a year!
Put that way, it doesn’t sound much better.
I’m wondering if those statistics support what the ALA is always saying about how library use is increasing and what a bad idea it is to cut library funding during a recession when so many more people use libraries, etc.
I mean, if two thirds of potential library users rarely or never bother to go to the library, that’s not exactly proof that library use is on the rise.
It turns out that a Harris Poll Quorum created for the ALA this year says pretty much the same thing.
When asked how many times people had used their library in the past year, 36% said zero and 29% said 1-5. Thus, about two thirds of the respondents never or rarely use the library.
There’s comparative data from 2010 and 2011 that shows library use actually declined, at least among those polled. “More than 25 times” went from 13% to 12% and “11 to 25 times” from 13% to 11%, while “1 to 5 times” went from 27% to 29%. That would seem to indicate a dropping off of high library use.
It does seem that library visits are increasing in number, though the visits might all be from the same people. According to the Condition of U.S. Libraries report, library visits increase 3-4% per year. That report plays up the availability of library services, but either misrepresents information or makes outright false claims.
The chart on page 24 makes the increase visits seem like a steep rise, but that’s just because they put the baseline at 1.1 million visits and uses a truncated scale to compare data for every 50,000 visits, the average rise each year. Thus, we step up a level each year. Put the baseline at zero and make it every 100,000 visits, and the climb would look considerably less steep.
That same report has this paragraph as well:
American households reported using their public libraries more often in 2009
- 25.4 million Americans reported using their public library more than 20 times in the last year, up from 20.3 million households in 2006.
- The average number of in‐person public library visits rose to 12.7 in 2009 from 9.1 in 2006.
- Use of the public library by computer (from home, work or school) doubled from 2006 to 2009 (6 times per year, up from 2.9 times in 2006).
- 22% of Americans visited their public library by computer from home, office or school more often in the last 6 months. This percentage may seem low, but it is about 51 million Americans.
After borrowing library materials, Americans rank entertainment (35%) and educational purposes, such as for homework or taking a class (28%), as the top two reasons for using the library. That’s more than 145.8 million Americans.
I love the line “the percentage may seem low.” No, it IS low. And if that’s the case, then only about 11% of Americans used there library 20 times or more in the last year.
If someone could explain how the data given adds up to “more than 145.8 million Americans,” they would be more insightful than whoever put together this report.
That paragraph references a 2009 household survey by KRC Research that’s on the ALA website, which doesn’t support the 145.8 million Americans claim. Question 4 about ranking uses of the library included the following direction: “ASK ONLY IF USED LIBRARY IN PERSON, BY TELEPHONE OR BY COMPUTER IN THE PAST YEAR”.
In that survey, 42% of Americans didn’t use the library at all in the last year, but whoever wrote the Condition of U.S. Libraries report made the claim of 145.8 million as if all Americans had used the library in the past year, when really the 35% and 28% figures were percentages of the subset of the 58% of those surveyed who had used the library at all in the previous year.
Based on the numbers, only 134 million people had used the library at all in the previous year. According to the Condition of Libraries report, 145.8 million of those 134 million used the library primarily for entertainment or education.
Someone is confused, that’s for sure.
According to that same survey, 68% of Americans used the library either not at all or fewer than five times in the past year, which pretty much accords with the Harris poll and the 60 Minutes/ Vanity Fair poll.
Rising usage statistics seem to have nothing to do with any increase in the actual number of users of libraries, though based on how the ALA handles statistics, probably no one has figured that out yet.
Regardless, even if Americans are “tepid about libraries,” it doesn’t matter. The KRC survey indicates that Americans overwhelmingly agree that libraries are important to give everyone a chance to succeed and are critical to our democracy.
Thus, even the majority of people who rarely or never use libraries still think they’re useful and important. That helps to explain that while the majority of people have little use for public libraries, my first prediction for 2011 will come true: The vast majority of libraries will remain open.