What kind of library user are you?

Libraries and the role they play in people’s lives and their communities is an area the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project has been studying. Earlier this month, it released a report on what it calls “a typology of library engagement in American.” The report is based on Americans 16 years old and older and their attitudes, perceptions, and priorities relating to public libraries, in addition to their library use.

In creating this “typology,” though, the study doesn’t just focus on library users. It also included those who are “non-engaged,” which actually made up about 14 percent of the total. The study indicated Americans seem to fall into nine groups within four broad levels of library engagement: high (30%), medium (39%), (low 17%) and no personal library use (14%):

  • Library Lovers make up 10 percent of the total. As you would expect, this group uses libraries and library websites more than any other. Its members are disproportionately younger than the general population, tend to have higher levels of education and somewhat higher household incomes than many other groups but a notable share are in economically challenging circumstances (23% recently lost their jobs or saw a significant loss of income and 25% are currently looking for a job). Politically, they are more likely to be liberal and Democratic than the general population. Nearly two-third (62%) are women, 40% are parents, 17% are students, 66% read a book daily and 57% a regular bookstore visitors. They are heavy internet users and, not surprisingly, 98 percent have library cards and 87% visited the library in the prior 12 months, most of them weekly.
  • Information Omnivores make up 20 % of the population and their focus is on seeking and using information. This group is the highest ranking in socio-economic terms, with one of the highest employment rates and 35% living in households earning $75,000 or more. Like Library Lovers, this group is more likely to be Democratic and liberal compared with the general U.S. population. Fifty-seven percent are women and 40% are parents. They are the most intense users of technology: among internet users, 90% go online every day and 81% use social media. Almost half (46%) have a tablet computer and 68% own a smartphone. They read an average of 17 books in the previous 12 months and are more likely to buy books than borrow them. Ninety-two percent have library cards and 81 percent have visited the library in the prior 12 months.
  • Solid Center is the largest group at 30% of the population. More likely to live in small towns and cities, this group also seems to reflect the general U.S. population. Fifty-eight percent have library cards but only 43% visited a library in the prior 12 months. A third report their use of the library has dropped in the prior five years. This group is 57% male and only 28% have minor children living at home. More (34%) go to sporting events regularly than regularly go to bookstores (28%), although 37 percent have read at least one book in the last year. Only 5% used a library website in the prior year and only 26% have ever used one.
  • Print Traditionalists are 9% of the population. Thirty-five percent make less than $30,000 a year and only 11 percent have a public library within five miles. Despite that 48% say they visited the library in the last 12 months and this group read an average of 13 books in those 12 months. As might be expected by the library distance, 61 percent are from rural areas. Fifty-seven percent are women, the education of about half ended with high school diploma and their political views lean conservative.
  • Not For Me is 4% of the population and is made up of those who have used public libraries at some point in their lives, although few have done so recently. The group is 56% men and is 63% live in small towns or rural areas. Only 18% have graduated from college, less than half (41%) are married (41%) while only 39% are employed full-time and 23% are retired. Nearly a third (31%) did not read any books in the last year. Still, 40% have library cards although just 31% visited the library in the past year. Sadly, 64% say library closings would have no impact on them or their family.
  • Young and Restless constitutes 7% of the population. As the name suggests, 43% are under age 30. Surprisingly, only 15% say they even know where the local library, perhaps because a third have lived in their communities less than a year. Still, 32% have a library card and visited a library in the past year. Males make up 53% of the group and 37% live in households earning less than $30,000. Their age is reflected in technology use, with 82% accessed the internet with a mobile device and, of the internet users, 86% use social networking sites. Thirty-eight percent read a book in the prior year and group members read an average of 11 books in that time.
  • Rooted and Roadblocked is 7% of the population and has that name in part because 37% have lived in their community for 20 years or more. The roadblock aspect arises from 35% being retired, 27% living with a disability, and 34% experiencing experienced a major illness (either themselves or a loved one) within the past year. The median age is 58 and only a third visited the library in the prior 12 months. Only 36% have a library card and 28% did not read a book in the past 12 months. Despite that, more than half (54%) say library closing would affect them and their families in some way.
  • Distant Admirers are 10% of the population, matching Library Lovers for the third largest group. While they don’t personally use libraries, 40% have someone in their household who does. Again, the largest portion, 56%, is men, some 62% have a high school education or less and 42% live in households earning less than $30,000 a year. Interestingly, 37% report having a library card and 30% have read a book in the last year. When it comes to library closings, 60% say it would have some impact on them and their family and 85% say that of their community.
  • Off the Grid consists of 4% of the population. This group is off the grid in several ways. For example, fully 60 percent don’t regularly participate in community activities and only 44% read or watch the news. With a median age of 52, this group is 57% men, 83% live in small towns and rural areas, 34 percent never completed high school and 44% of the households have an income less than $30,000. There are a few quirks in the numbers, though. While these individuals are said never to have used a public library in their life, 19% have a library card. While half read no books in the prior 12 months, 25% read a book daily. Still, only 17% percent of the households have anyone in them who uses the public library and, not surprisingly, two-third say a library closing would have no impact on them or their family and only 39% believe a library improves a community’s quality of life.

There’s plenty of other interesting information in the study, including geographic region and race. Given my usage of and love for libraries, I find many of the statistics saddening. Still, I suppose the breadth of use (or lack thereof) reveals the diversity of the Americans and their lives.

Libraries are what is best about us as a society: open, exciting, rich, informative, free, inclusive, engaging

Susan Orlean

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1 comment to What kind of library user are you?

  • John

    I am frankly surprised that this survey shows as much library usage as it does. In my younger days, I would spend hours and hours at my small town library. Even during many of my working years spent in downtown Los Angeles, I would hightail it to the central library during lunch time and explore instead of eating lunch.

    But that has stopped for me when, at the same time, the library became a hangout for street people and internet users. There was more activity in the computer section (sometimes in activities not normally found in a library!) than in the book section.

    I am fortunate enough now to be able financially to use the internet both for information as well as to simply buy books. For me, the library has become a non-entity.

    The level of reading in this Country has diminished along with the usage of public libraries and I believe that trend will continue, sadly.