crossroads

Image credit: Pew Research

Pew Research Center’s new report on the state of America’s libraries declares that libraries are approaching a watershed moment of change. Pew based this conclusion off of two central questions from its survey of 2,004 Americans over the age of 16 – Firstly, what should happen to the books that traditionally populated libraries, and secondly, what should happen to the buildings themselves?

It appears that Americans are getting more comfortable with the idea of a library with fewer books. 30% of survey respondents say libraries should “definitely” move books to make way for more space and services, compared to 20% in 2012. A quarter (25%) said libraries should “definitely not” do this, and 40% were on the fence. However, it appears that Americans are nowhere near ready to forgo the library space as a whole. Nearly two-thirds (64%) thought libraries should definitely still have a physical location.

So what does this mean for the future of library books? Public libraries are likely to remain popular community centers and resources for job preparation, but books will also remain a central part of their M.O. Some print book collections may decline, but the formats offered by libraries continue to get increasingly diverse. The Pew survey also found that e-book lending is growing – though the number seems small, 6% of respondents have borrowed an e-book, and 38% are aware that they are offered.

Yet even with the growth in popularity of electronic resources (90% of public libraries now have e-lending programs!), the Pew survey respondents don’t indicate that Americans are ready to go full e-book. Almost half (46%) still aren’t aware of whether or not their library offers e-books. Even more concerning, respondents with the least education and household income reported higher than average declines in library use. This means that despite rapid growth in tech-based services and resources, it will be essential for libraries to continue their quest to close the gap in digital literacy and awareness.

Want to hear more about the state of public libraries? You can access the full Pew report here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.