Cart and buggy or…?

There’s been a lot of talk lately around the blogosphere about the future of libraries from both within the library profession and outside of it. I think it’s been a great constructive dialogue about a complicated topic.

You can follow some of the discussion here:

The Uncertainty of Professional Persistence

Touching Some Nerves

Dangerously Irrelevant Libraries

I have more to say about the discussion, but first, I thought it would be enlightening to take a look at statistics about library use. There are presumptions I make, working in a very busy school library, that might not reflect the trends as a whole, for example.  I’m not sharing these to be defensive, but more to inform the discussion and out of my own curiosity about what the research is showing.

A library use survey  of teens conducted by Harris Interactive (2007) sheds some light on the subject.   While the survey is two years old, another study of youth use of libraries shows that young people  have been a significantly high portion of library users for the last 75 years or so, which implies to me that the study is recent enough to consider.

Some interesting details I gleaned from the Harris study:

  • only 12% of those surveyed had NOT visited a public or school library in the last year.
  • about 60% visit a library website at least once monthly, ( 16 %  of that visit one weekly.)
  • about 80% visit their school library at least once a month, while a whopping 40% surveyed visit a couple of times a week or more.

Another report, the 2009 State of America’s Libraries, illumined these statistics:

  • “Children are among the heaviest users of public-library resources. Children’s materials accounted for 35 percent of all circulation transactions, and attendance at library-based children’s programs was 57.8 million. “
  • “Individual visits to school library media centers increased significantly at the schools that responded to both the 2007 and 2008 surveys: up 22.7 percent for the 50th percentile, up 12.5 percent for the 75th percentile, and up almost 25 percent for the 95th percentile. There were no major year-to-year differences in the responses with regard to the other variables. “

  horsebuggybertha_0210  So, whatever is happening with the future of libraries,  children and young adults are clearly using both public and school  libraries frequently.  So before we conclude that libraries are a dying breed, or going the way of the “buggy whip makers”(grins to Scott McLeod), the statistics do have significant things to tell us about that perception.

I definitely do not deny that we need to be doing serious thinking about what libraries will look like and how we will serve children and young adults as our libraries evolve, as I wrote about in a post a couple of weeks ago.   I think it will be fascinating to see what evolves, what sticks, and what transforms.  But I also want to ground some of the discussion in the present–again, not in a defensive, “libraries will never change” mindset, but just to acknowledge the vivid usage that libraries have by children and young adults currently.

Our roles are already transforming, of course, lest there be some perception that librarians have sat idly by in their buggy while the world whips past them in sports cars 😉 

And in the midst of that, I find myself more of a hybrid these days,  but that is fodder for my next post.

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2 thoughts on “Cart and buggy or…?

  1. As a frequent library user myself (along with my two sons and my parents – not so much the husband) what is wrong with the library as a repository of fiction??

    In ideal terms, in the school of my dreams where I teach and learn, the library is a physical space to meet fellow students, to gather materials, to organize thoughts, to follow ideas in new directions… Yes, I realize that there are many structures and resources available to accomplish that online, but I still stand firm for the need for face-to-face human contact along with virtual collaboration.

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