Saturday, June 14, 2014

What kind of library user are you?

Are you a “Library Lover”? An “Information Omnivore”? Or are you totally “Off the Grid”? Take the Pew Internet Project's library engagement quiz to learn how your library habits and attitudes stack up against the general population. It is short and amusing.

I'm a "Library Lover." No surprise there. The study found wide and deep support for this public institution:

Libraries loom large in the public imagination, and are generally viewed very positively: 90% of Americans ages 16 and older say that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community.

What I would call class advantages and Pew calls "social landscape" correlates with engagement with libraries.

As a rule, people who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks. Many of those who are less engaged with public libraries tend to have lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities.

... those who are less engaged with public libraries are often less engaged in their communities overall. ... lower rates of library use and lack of familiarity with libraries seem to coincide with lower patterns of social and civic engagement in other areas of their lives. Members of low and non-engagement groups are often less likely to participate in similar community activities, such as visiting museums or patronizing bookstores, and more likely to report having difficulty using technology; they also tend to be less comfortable navigating various types of information, such as finding material about government services and benefits.

Libraries are a collective social project that more privileged people mesh well with, unlike so many others such as public schools, public universities, public transit, etc. Folks who don't do so well in our society don't know how to "get in" at the library anymore than into other socially valuable arenas.

The study describes its findings about various sorts of library users and non-users. There are interesting tidbits buried among them. For example:

Most Americans do not feel overwhelmed by information today. Some 18% of Americans say they feel overloaded by information -- a drop in those feeling this way from 27% who said information overload was a problem to them in 2006. Those who feel overloaded are actually less likely to use the internet or smartphones, and are most represented in groups with lower levels of library engagement.

Perhaps most of us have developed more sophisticated filters for dealing with the technologically enabled information deluge than we had a decade ago? No proof of that, but it feels right. I imagine our various filters help us maintain the political polarization that another recent Pew study documents. Lots to chew on here.

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