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Americans say they still love their libraries, even if they’re not using them

Creative Commons photo via flickr user srharris

The local library is considered a vital asset even though you might not use it as much as you might have in the past, according to findings from a new Pew Survey released Wednesday.
Just under 50 percent of us say they have visited a public library in the past 12 months. About the same percent of folks said they don’t need a public library as much as they used to because they can find a lot of information on their own, rather than say research through the library’s stack of books.

Even though personal visits to libraries have gone down, the survey found strong support for them in general: 94 percent said that having a library improves the quality of life in their community.

“As a community center, or … as a representative of freedom of speech or freedom of information, I think that’s a huge reason why those numbers are so high,” Library consultant Gary Price told “Library Journal,” explaining that as an abstract concept most people are going to agree that libraries are a positive influence on a community.

However, only 47 percent said they were familiar with their library’s services and programs.

“If people were aware of what libraries have to offer, across the board, I think things would be a lot different,” Price said. “You can’t really value or appreciate what you don’t know about.”

The survey found that library services such as youth programs (70 percent of adults with children under 18 say their child has visited a public library or bookmobile in the last 12 months) or help in finding and applying for a job were considered very important by African Americans, Hispanics, women, and those with low income or educational attainment.

“[I]t is reassuring to know that Americans still have a warm and fuzzy feeling about their public library, but information about how they are actually using libraries is limited. Or, even more critically, what they want from libraries in the future,” Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains New York Public Library told “Publishers Weekly.”