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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Weekend Edition: 3-21

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • If You Don’t Like Reading, You’re Doing It Wrong(“I am afraid too many people are stuck in the same place I was 9 years ago. They do not hold reading with disdain or harsh feelings. They simply do not know how to love reading. They are stuck with the notion that reading is tolerable and enjoyable if the subject is just right.”)
  • The Scourge of Coffee (“Coffee is a social scam in that we are compelled to believe that it energizes our interactions with one another, when it actually saps our drive — caffeine is scientific proof of the law of diminishing returns — while diverting our attention away from substantive discourse.”)

Saddest Societal Commentary of the Week

Security Breach of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

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Weekend Edition: 3-15

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • How to save the US (“The solution is obvious. The US needs to model itself on its most sanctified institution: the military.”)
  • Reading to Have Read (“…the idea of Spritzing is the apotheosis of speed reading: reading in which completion is the only goal.”)
  • Let Me Count the Days (“Far too few slots remain in my life for anywhere near the number of books I want to read. Now what am I supposed to do when I go into a bookstore?”)

Blog Headline of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster,

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

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How we spend our time

There’s a new map floating around the web based on a survey several years ago on the average number of hours spent reading each week in 30 countries. It probably won’t shock a lot of people to learn that the U.S. is in the fourth of five tiers on the map.

According to something called the NOP World Culture Score, the U.S. finished 21st, reading an average of 5.7 hours per week. That compares to a global average of 6.5 hours a week. India topped the list with an average of 10.7 hours a week, followed by Thailand and China with 9.4 and 8 hours respectively). Asia also brought up the rear, with Korea at 3.1, Japan at 4.1 and Taiwan at 5.

Actually, I probably wouldn’t have guessed Americans spent that much time reading every week. The survey also looked at consumption of other media and I wasn’t surprised to see that the U.S. ranked sixth in time spent watching television each week with an average of 19 hours. Interestingly, although Thailand was second in hours spent reading, it was tops in hours spent watching television at 20.4. The global average was 16.7 hours.

Perhaps most surprising to me was that the U.S. ranked 19th in the number of hours of non-work computer and internet usage. Our 8.8 hours were just slightly off the global average of 8.9 hours. Taiwan was tops at 12.6 hours while Thailand again was second at 11.7 hours, Again, though, the survey results are several years old and do not reflect where everyone stands today.

I am very curious about one thing, though. When you include the time listening to radio that the survey also scored, Thais spent nearly 57 hours a week consuming media.


We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.

Ray Bradbury, 2003

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Weekend Edition: 3-8

Bulletin Board

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • Stop Defending the Humanities (“This negative stereotyping [the ‘liberal intellectual’takes wing, in part, from the sense that humanities academics and the students whom they send into the professions acquire their privilege too easily, exempt from the hard scrabble of working in small business, farming, factories, supermarkets, and so on.”)

Headline of the Week

Arrest of the Week

Worst Idea of the Week

  • An Ohio A funeral home offered a couple a discount to keep them from going to police after an employee molested the corpse of a family member, according to a lawsuit the couple filed

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human.

Adam Gopnik, “Why Teach English?”

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Death of a friend

I received word this morning that a friend and law partner of mine, Monte Walz, died last night. It wasn’t totally unexpected. He had a cardiac event during a medical procedure about week ago and had been in a coma since. And while Monte struggled with a variety of medical conditions for several years, it still comes as a shock — especially when I consider I’m six months older than him.

Over the 25+ years we worked together, Monte practiced in a variety of areas, including some of the most difficult. Those included the maze that is credit card regulation and health care, particularly the regulatory dense area of health information privacy. Those are areas where not only are the regulations page after page of agate type, there’s hundreds more pages the agency produces in explaining the rules as they went through the process of being promulgated. And they seemed to grow every year. His ability to not only understand these types of regs but to explain them to and help those affected speaks a ton about his ability.

I admired Monte’s legal talents — but I loved him for his humor. Especially during the lunches our lawyers have together each week, the odds were good Monte would make some comment that broke up the room. His wit was quick and sharp. Sometimes you’d hear something and in the back of your head you knew it was in Monte’s strike zone. But before that thought fully crystallized, he’d usually already pounced. I always thought this was one aspect of his perceptiveness.

Although Monte’s death accents the fact that my rear view mirror looks back on more and more distance each year, I’m fortunate it’s been populated with people like him.


I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.

Bill Hicks (Dec. 16, 1961 – Feb. 26, 1994), Feb. 7, 1994

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