Americans love libraries. No, wait, scratch that. Americans love the idea that they love libraries. A new Pew survey published Tuesday finds that while people report feeling strongly about the importance of public libraries in their communities, those people are actually using libraries less and less.
It appears the share of people visiting libraries has “edged downward” over the past three years, though researchers at Pew say it’s still too soon to know for sure that this is a trend. (Incidentally: Women, parents of young children, and people with higher levels of education were all more likely than other groups to have used a library in the past year. Of people who use libraries, Hispanics visit them most frequently, Pew found.)
Overall, perhaps people aren’t visiting libraries as much because their relationship to the printed word, still a library’s core offering, is dramatically changing.
That shift was reflected in Pew’s findings. For example, nearly one-third of respondents who were 16 and older said libraries should “definitely” remove public access to some of their print books and stacks in order to free up space for technology hubs and other more customizable workspaces like reading spaces and meeting rooms. Many more were open to the idea: 40 percent of those surveyed said libraries should “maybe” reconfigure space to include fewer printed books. On top of that, almost half of those surveyed said libraries should “definitely” make 3-D printing technologies available to patrons who want to use them to make their own objects.