Free access to technology at libraries now rivals books and reference help as a key library service. However, many patrons would like even more tech-centered services such as online reference libraries, apps for accessing material and browsing stacks, gadget "petting zoos" to explore new tools, Redbox-style lending kiosks, and Amazon-style book recommendations. Despite technological advances, many patrons feel that print books remain important in the digital age.
“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,” noted Kathryn Zickuhr, Research Analyst at the Pew Internet Project, and co-author of a new report on the survey findings. “While many patrons appreciate being able to access new digital resources at libraries, they also say they value having print books and other traditional resources at libraries and still want a personal connection with library staff. Many libraries are torn between expanding their digital offerings on the latest platforms and still providing quality resources for patrons who may lack experience with technology or the means to own the latest devices.”
The greatest public resistance to change came when the question turned to the prominence of printed books in library spaces. Asked whether "libraries should move some printed books and stacks out of public locations to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events": 20% of Americans ages 16 and older said libraries should “definitely” make those changes; 39% said libraries “maybe” should do that; and 36% said libraries should “definitely not” change by moving books out of public spaces.
When it comes to tech activities at libraries: 26% of Americans ages 16 and older have used computers and the internet at their library in the past 12 months, 25% visited a library website, and 13% have access library material via mobile connections through a smartphone or tablet.
Some 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.
Not only do people want more e‑book selections in their public libraries, more than half of all people would be likely to check out e‑readers already loaded with books (58%); take classes on how to download library e‑books to handheld devices (57%) and take classes or instruction on how to use handheld reading devices like e‑readers and tablet computers (51%). This represents significant growth from a survey a year ago.
The technology that is sweeping through libraries has also shifted library usage. Some 26% of recent library users say their library use has increased in the past five years and 22% say their use has decreased.[Source: "Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project." Pew Research. 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.]