|For centuries, libraries have been seen as
places that house books. This meaning of the word is
incorporated within the term "librairie", which
comes from the old French used in the 14th
century and which means "book collection".
image of dusty stacks always comes to mind when we
say the word library. However, as we know, the
concept of the book is changing, molding itself to
the new technological environment. Consequently, the
way we learn is also in a process of mutation.
A new study by the Pew Research Center that
focused on who uses libraries in the United States,
how often and for what purpose came to some
interesting conclusions. That is what we are going
to talk about in the following paragraphs.
Library: a term under construction
We start with the main conclusion reached by Pew:
people who go to libraries identify themselves as
“long term learners” and are more likely to visit a
library than those who do not seek to be learning
new things regularly. Those using libraries, for
example, are more open to pursuing personal learning
But learning does not necessarily mean reading
books. Training courses, lectures and videos are
methods that also attract people to libraries:
didactic activities, lectures or workshops or even
listening to music or a film. All of this can happen
in the space of a library without necessarily having
to pick up a book.
However, to accommodate these different needs -
as well as receiving all visitors - libraries in
the United States have expanded their purpose to
include community events and a space for using the
Internet. However, according to Pew's research, many
of the visitors to a library are unaware that these
services are available.
In fact, the study points out that
while 62% of libraries offer resources related
to work and employment, a large proportion of 38% of
adults are completely unaware of the existence of
this type of service. Likewise, 35% of libraries
offer equivalences to higher schools and almost half
of adults are unaware that this is the case. The
numbers are similar when it comes to programs to
support the creation of a new business, online
programs to certify a person in a new skill
or e - book loan.
With regard to this last point, it is necessary
to note that the disparity in services may be
related to the fact that reading e-books is not so
popular. The effort to read from a screen has been
seen as a factor against the difficulty in reading
and learning, while the printed book still does not
have to deal with such problems.
Still, American librarians who have invested and
sought funding for new initiatives may find these
numbers strange. According to a response from The
Atlantic to the Pew study, more funds can help
libraries attract more users, as the number has
dropped by about 9% in the United States since 2012.
This figure is revealed by the Institute of Museum
and Library Services, which points to
a 8.2% reduction in physical visits since a peak in
2009. However, with regard to digital visits, the
paradigm may be slightly different.
Since the online systems of libraries do not
correctly record online visits, it is impossible to
know the scale of this type of consultation. Still,
as much as the Internet has revolutionized the way
we consult information, many library services
continue to be available only on physical media.
To prevent libraries from disappearing
altogether, Robinson Meyer - of The Atlantic -
points out that “there is empirical evidence that
the use follows investment. If libraries receive
more public funding, there will be more people using
them ”. This makes more sense than it looks. If
librarians provide services that visitors really
want - invest in resources that can be read, seen
and experienced - then increasing visits is just a
matter of spreading the word and showing what is
The libraries have evolved into much more than
houses containing books. Still, the original purpose
of these spaces remains and libraries continue to be
valued by those who visit them. In order to preserve
reading materials, and to promote new forms of
knowledge, future visitors first need to understand
what a library is for.