What our Patrons Value

by Emily Hamstra

Every time a new Pew Internet report comes out, I’m likely to stop everything I’m doing to read it. Yesterday, Pew Internet & American Life released the fascinating report Library Services in the Digital Age. The report is based on surveys and focus groups asking public library patrons what they value in library services, and how they use the library. The findings in this report greatly affect our daily work as we think about services that meet the needs of our patrons.

What captured my attention the most about this report is “main reasons patrons cite why their use [of library services] decreased.” 40% of patrons stated they “can get books, do research online and the internet is more convenient.” How many times have we all been asked about the role of our profession, collections, and spaces now that we can just “Google it”? We spend a lot of time as librarians building awesome electronic collections and services, enhancing our community’s access to quality resources from databases and downloadable ebooks to librarians through chat reference services. We often don’t have time to market these services to our patrons, teaching them how the library can enhance their digital lives. Many of our patrons might think finding information online is “more convenient” than using the library because they might not know what we have to offer. One participant in a focus group for the report says about the library, “they do so many fabulous things, [but] they have horrible marketing” (full report, pg. 38).

While the stats about why people don’t come into the library made me a little sad, the stats about how people use the library really cheered me up. 50% of those who had visited a library “say they visit to get help from a librarian” (see full report, pg. 25, for more about reference services). 73% who use their library “say they visit to borrow print books.” This is good news. I was surprised that more people reported they are coming to the library to use the internet to look up health information than to search for jobs–47% looked up health information, 36% said they looked up information about jobs or applied for jobs (pg. 6-7).

91% of Americans consider their public library “very important” to their community (full report, pg. 19). But, only 53% of Americans visited their public library or bookmobile in the last 12 months (pg. 4). This has certainly given me something to mull over.  

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