Rainie Says Libraries Solve Problems


Lee Rainie is director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which tracks and reports on many aspects of the social impact of the Internet. Because of his clear understanding of the involvement of libraries and librarians in online life, he’s a frequently invited speaker to Computers in Libraries and other library-related events. And, this morning he certainly did not disappoint—he delighted and inspired the overflow crowd at the keynote session.

He reported on the recently released report on a major national survey that looked at how people used the Internet and libraries for their problem solving information needs—what pathways they used and the kinds of information.

The report is officially titled, “Information searches that solve problems: How people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help” (www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/Pew_UI_LibrariesReport.pdf). It was funded with a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (www.imls.gov), an agency that is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums.

Compared to their elders, Gen Y members (ages 18–30) were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and for other purposes. 60 % of online teens use the Internet at libraries. Rainie reasoned that young people have experienced most closely the changes that libraries have undergone and are most aware of what’s possible.

There were some interesting numbers.
In 2000, only 46% of adults use Internet
In 2008 – 76% of adults and 93 % of teenagers use the Internet and 62 % connect to the Internet wirelessly
25% of teens help others online with their content
33% of college students keep blogs and post regularly

Once users get to a library they are active and happy – 69 % got help from library staff, 68 % used computers, and 58% used reference materials. Basically they take advantage of an array of library products and services. And, this is good news for libraries to tell!

Rainie urged the audience to think about the opportunities out there: 53% market share isn’t a bad market share. Increase your public education efforts. Focus on success stories and competence – you already have these stories, just work to get the word out. You have “people who love you and want to evangelize” – offer them more Web 2.0 tools to tell their stories. This is the era of user-generated content. Your “un-patrons” are already primed to seek you out – help them think more about libraries. Offer a comfortable environment for them – they may be a bit wary and may need a bit more tech support and hand holding.

This is the era of social networks—and these are tremendously important for information seeking and problem solving. He says we should aspire to be a “node” in people’s social networks.

Paula J. Hane

News Bureau Chief, ITI

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