Parents feel special bond with libraries and what they offer to children, families
In a time when the digital age has forced libraries to rethink what they will offer and be, Johnson said, they've found great success with programs that support and entertain the entire family. Both Chinese New Year celebrations and a magic show were among fairly recent popular draws. But nothing beats story time for parents and their pre-school-age children, she said.
The survey was funded through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Part of the impetus was that libraries are in transition, rocked by the same digital age that is challenging news outlets, movie studios, record labels and others. The questions all of them face include "In what ways do we change and what do we change to?" Rainie said.
Librarians wonder what they should offer people who don't necessarily have to go to the library to get a book — think digital books, which most libraries also offer — or to look up facts for a book report.
Rainie said the data are interesting and reassuring. "One of the stories of particular interest to librarians in our data is that parents in communities have a special relationship to the institutions and are important voices as they think about what they should become. Getting input from mothers is probably a good thing. They are the biggest fans of libraries."
It is important to note, he said, that mothers are very tech savvy and also social. "Mothers have always been sort of disproportionately involved in using social tools. Mothers have an interesting vantage point, with enthusiasm for technology and enthusiasm for the library."
The survey found that "parents are more likely than other adults to say they would use new library offerings."
Serving the poor
Some findings about lower-income families also stood out, Rainie said. When they were asked what they wanted libraries to be, they were enthusiastic about a variety of services, some tech-based, but it was just as important that libraries continue to anchor communities, to be what Rainie called "precious institutional space."
Lower-income families, he said, are enthusiastic supporters as libraries evolve, "so long as they stay a central place in the community." They also serve as a reliable, but not the only provider, of access to Internet and computers.
Still, income is not a big differentiator of who uses a library or doesn't. Upper-income families are even more likely to have library cards and to borrow books, Rainie said. "Some of the libraries think of that as a paradox. Some of the most enthusiastic patrons have plenty of access, books at home and technology in their lives. But there is no sense in the data that well-off people have stopped thinking libraries are important in their lives."
Among other findings, 7 in 10 parents say their kids have visited the public library in the last year, 87 percent of them to borrow books. More than half who went to the library also went for school work (77 percent of the young visitors 12-17), and just under half borrowed DVDs or CDs, or attended a library event. More than a third went to use the Internet or to socialize with friends.
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