The Pew survey, How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell and Maeve Duggan, was released on December 11, 2013, and it provides us with some solid food for thought with regard to advocating for the services that we provide. It notes that Americans strongly value the role of public libraries within their communities, but also indicates some areas where we need to “get the word out,” so to speak. Questions addressed in the survey included:
- The importance of public libraries to their communities and the impact to family and community should the library close.
- The importance of particular library services to the individual and his/her family.
- How well-informed those surveyed felt about different services offered by their library.
- How many had used a public library in the past 12 months.
- How many have had a positive experience in using a public library.
While survey responses were mostly positive, there was variation as to the importance of specific services offered depending upon the group to which the respondent belonged. Those of us who serve young people should note that parents with minor children were more likely to respond that many services offered by the library are “very important.”
As an advocate for library services in general and services to young people in particular, the response to the question “How well-informed do you feel about the different services your public library offers?” was the one that I found most frustrating and the one that seems to me to call out to us with regard to promoting and advocating for the services that we provide for our communities. The report noted that 23% felt they knew most or all of what the library provided, 47% knew some, 20% indicated not much and 10% said that they knew nothing.
In effect, the survey indicates that the majority of people surveyed like their libraries, feel that they are valuable to the community, know where their library is located, and have used it within the past twelve months. On the other hand, their knowledge of what the library offers in the way of services varies considerably. So the question is; how do we more effectively advocate for and promote the services that we provide?
I encourage you to read the report and to view it from the perspective of your library and its services. It does provide you with positive data about how Americans view their public libraries. This is data that you may well be able to use as you talk with local government and other agencies about library service needs within your community. It can be found at http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/12/11/how-americans-value-public-libraries-in-their-communities/.
Many thanks to Joanna Ison, ALSC Program Officer for Projects and Partnerships, for sharing the report with me.
Chair, ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee