New report maps young Americans’ library, technology use

Younger Americans depend on libraries not just for books, but for technology access, too.

Nearly all young Americans under age 30 are online, and as library patrons, are more likely than older generations to use library technology such as computers and internet connections, according to “Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations,” a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Along the same lines, young Americans’ library use combines traditional and technological services. While those under age 30 are just as likely as older adults to visit a library and borrow paper books, they are much more likely than older adults to use library technology, including computers, internet, and research resources such as databases.

Americans ages 16-29 are significantly more likely to have used library technology or to have remotely accessed library websites and services.

(Next page: How many young Americans depend on library technology?)

Thirty-eight percent of Americans in the 16- to 29-year-old age group have used computers and the internet at libraries in the past year, compared with 22 percent of those ages 30 and older. And of those who use computers and the internet at libraries, younger patrons are more likely than older patrons to use those library resources for school or work, to visit social networking sites, or to download and watch videos online.

Nearly half (48 percent) of 16- to 29-year-olds have visited a library website, compared with 36 percent of those ages 30 and older. And 18 percent of younger Americans have used a mobile device to visit a library’s website or to access library technology or resources in the past year, compared with 12 percent of library patrons ages 30 or older.

The report’s authors surmise that higher library technology use rates are likely related to young Americans’ heavy technology use in all other areas of their lives. The report analyzes a 2012 survey revealing that at the time of the survey, more than 90 percent of younger Americans surveyed owned a cell phone, and most of those own a smart phone. Additionally, 16 percent owned an eReader and 25 percent owned a tablet.

The technology adoption trend is continuing, with more recent surveys from the Internet & American Life Project revealing that 98 percent of young adults ages 18-29 use the internet and 80 percent have broadband internet access at home; 97 percent own a cell phone and 65 percent own a smart phone, and 34 percent own a tablet.

Additional data reveal:

  • Nineteen percent of Americans ages 16-29 read an eBook during 2011, while 25 percent did so in 2012.
  • Sixty percent of younger library patrons ages 16-29 said they have used a library as a space to sit and read, study, or consume media. Only 45 percent of adults ages 30 and older reported the same.
  • Seventy-six percent of Americans younger than 30 said it is “very important” that libraries offer research resources such as free databases, and 75 percent said free computer and internet access is “very important”

When asked about potential new library services, Americans ages 16-29 expressed the strongest interest in apps that would let them locate library materials within the library or access library services on their phone, as well as library kiosks that would make library materials available throughout the community. In addition, younger respondents were somewhat more likely than older adults to say they would be likely to use personalized online accounts, digital media labs, and pre-loaded eReaders.

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