Books rule, but library users like innovations, poll says

2013-01-21T23:00:00Z 2013-12-10T15:17:04Z Books rule, but library users like innovations, poll saysBy Jane Henderson jhenderson@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8107 stltoday.com

Library users aren’t ready to let new technology usurp books, even though many welcome innovation, a new poll shows.

Eighty percent of Americans say lending books and offering research librarians are “very important” library services, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

In a study released today, the Pew project also says that 77 percent of Americans say it’s “very important” for libraries to offer free access to computers and the Internet.

People have “different views,” however, about “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,” the study says.

Of Americans age 16 and up, 20 percent said libraries should “definitely” make those changes, 39 percent thought they “maybe” should and 36 percent said they “definitely” should not change by moving books out of public spaces.

African-American and Hispanic patrons are more likely than white users to support new technology services at libraries. When asked whether they would use a library media lab to create or upload new digital content, 45 percent of blacks and 44 percent of Hispanics (compared with 19 percent of whites) said they would be “very likely” to use the lab.

Of new library services, the most popular with people surveyed was the idea of an online “ask a librarian” research service. Thirty-seven percent said they would be “very likely” to use the service. People were also asked about a variety of library services, including cellphone apps, library kiosks in the community, classes on downloading library e-books, and personal accounts that recommend books.

The survey concludes that “there was no overwhelming public clamor for any of the activities. Still, there was fairly consistent interest in them ...”

St. Louis-area libraries have already implemented many of these services. The city’s renovated Central Library has a new media lab, and librarians answer research questions by text. The St. Louis County Library lets borrowers download books to their phones. The Brentwood Public Library, like some other local libraries, lends e-readers preloaded with books.

The Pew survey, conducted last year in October and November, says that just 22 percent of Americans say they know “all or most of the services their libraries offer now.”

It is the latest in a series of Pew studies on the changing role of U.S. libraries. For more information, go to pewinternet.org.

Jane Henderson is book editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her online at stltoday.com/books and on Twitter at #stlbooks.

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