Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In electronic age, Americans’ use of library services grows

The ALA has issused the following press release. It fits in with recent postings and conversations on library services and library outreach.

In electronic age, Americans’ use of library services grows

National study finds Americans value, see future need for public libraries

(CHICAGO) A new national study from the American Library Association (ALA) finds that Americans overwhelmingly are very satisfied with their public libraries, agree more public library funding is needed and believe public libraries will be needed in the future. Two-thirds of adult Americans (roughly 135 million people) visited their public libraries last year.

KRC Research & Consulting conducted the study, which interviewed 1,003 adult Americans in a national random-sample telephone survey conducted January 3-13. The estimated margin of error is +/-3.1 percent.

Libraries and librarians – as well as the services they offer – are clearly valuable to Americans. Findings show that:
  • Seven out of 10 Americans report being extremely or very satisfied with their public libraries – up 10 points from 2002.
  • More than 8 in 10 Americans (85 percent) agree that their public libraries deserve more funding – including 58 percent who strongly agree.
  • More than half of survey respondents (52 percent) believe $41 or more should be spent. Americans currently provide, on average, about$25 per year per person in local tax support for public libraries.
  • Ninety-two percent of survey respondents believe libraries will still be needed in the future – even with all of the information available on the Internet.
  • More than one-third of Americans put the benefits of libraries at the top of the public services list – as compared to schools, roads and parks – up 6 points from 2002.
The more frequent the user, the more satisfied she or he is with libraries. In fact, Americans’ use of library services has grown in almost every category – from taking out books (up 14 points) to consulting with librarians (up 7 points) to taking out CDs, videos and computer software (up 13 points) to attending cultural programs like speakers or movie showings (up 8 points).

Nearly all Americans (96 percent) agree that because public libraries provide free access to materials and resources, they play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

“Because libraries offer free access to all — with help from professional librarians — they bring opportunity to all and are a vital part of a civil society,” said ALA President Michael Gorman. “Investment in libraries is an investment in education and lifelong learning.”

Sixty-one percent of library users report using the computer in some way – including checking the online catalog, connecting to the Internet and writing a paper or preparing a resume – when they visited the library.

African American and Hispanic adults are significantly more likely to use their public library for job searches or writing resumes than Caucasian adults.

“Public libraries are essential components of vibrant and educated communities,” Gorman said. “There are more than 16,000 public libraries in this country. I encourage everyone to check out his or her local library in person or online. Your library card is the smartest card in your wallet.”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans own library cards and report that taking out books and using computers/Internet are the top services they use in public libraries. The most frequent library users are women, younger adults (ages 25 to 44), college-educated adults and parents of younger children. Adults in the Midwest and West are more likely to have visited their public library than their counterparts in the South and Northeast.

For more information on this study, please visit


Lori Ayre said...


Can you cite where in their study they reported that 2/3 of adult Americans visited their public libraries last year? I don't see that.

I see that 63% of Americans own a library card but not that they visited the library. In fact, the study states that of those 63%, a full 26% of them hadn't visited the library in the previous year.

Am I reading the results wrong? Are you?


Jill Hurst-Wahl said...


For whatever reason, I can't get the report to come up (perhaps problems with the ALA server?), so I can't check the report's fact.

What I have in my post above is the press release from ALA. You're right, it does -- even from the press release -- look as if they confused number of card holders with the number of visitors. The statistics that ALA quoted in their press release have been heavily used (and quoted), so I would hope that they are correct.

In looking at the statistic, I think it is important to understand the wording. Again...I can't at the moment see the original report, but I wonder how they defined "visited." That could be the key to the statistic. Many people do go to their public libraries to vote in elections, to attend meetings, and to use the libraries' facilities. People can also visit the library online. So "visit" might have a broad interpretation.