In this digital age, libraries may be seen by many as a dying breed.
Not so, The Pew Internet and American Life Project has found.
Many libraries now offer free computer and Internet access, a service that is almost as important to patrons as checking out books, a recent Pew survey found.
Eighty percent of U.S. residents categorize borrowing books as a “very important” library service, while 77 percent say the same thing about using library computers and Internet services.
“In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new forms,” said Pew research analyst Kathryn Zickuhr in a statement.
Of the 2,252 Americans aged 16 and older interviewed by Pew, 53 percent said they would like more eBook selections in their public libraries, and would be likely to check out e-readers already loaded with books — a significant increase from a survey a year ago.
Roughly 69 percent said they would like to be able to try new technology devices through libraries, and 63 percent said they would like to receive customized book and music recommendations from their libraries, much like they would from Amazon.com.
The survey also found library patrons were open to having even more technological options such as:
• Online research services allowing patrons to pose questions and get answers from librarians: 37 percent of those surveyed would “very likely” use an “ask a librarian” type of service, and another 36 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
• Apps-based access to library materials and programs: 35 percent of those surveyed would “very likely” use that service and another 28 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
• Access to technology “petting zoos” to try out new devices: 35 percent of those surveyed would “very likely” use that service and another 34 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
• GPS-navigation apps to help patrons locate material inside library buildings: 34 percent of those surveyed would “very likely” use that service and another 28 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
• “Redbox”-style lending machines or kiosks located throughout the community where people can check out books, movies or music without having to go to the library itself: 33 percent of those surveyed would be “very likely” use that service and another 30 percent say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
Reaction was mixed when it came to libraries moving printed books to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms and meeting rooms. Twenty percent were in favor, 39 percent said maybe and 36 percent were against moving printed books out of public spaces.
Internet use at libraries
Twenty-six percent of those surveyed say they used computers and Internet at the library. Here is what they did on their free Internet access:
• 66 percent of those who used the Internet at a library in the past 12 months did research for school or work.
• 63 percent said they browsed the Internet for fun or to pass the time.
• 54 percent said they used e-mail.
• 47 percent said they got health information.
• 41 percent said they visited government websites or got information about government services.
• 36 percent said they looked for jobs or applied for jobs online.
• 35 percent said they visited social networking sites.
• 26 percent said they downloaded or watched online video.
• 16 percent said they bought a product online.
• 16 percent said they paid bills or did online banking.
• 16 percent said they took an online class or completed an online certification program.