Free access to computers and the Internet is now nearly as important to library patrons as borrowing books, according to a new survey.
The survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, indicated that 80 percent of Americans said book borrowing was a “very important” library service, but 77 percent said the same thing about computers and the Internet.
The study also indicated that library patrons were open to having even more technological options.
“In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new forms,” Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst with Pew and a co-author of a report on the survey's findings, said in a statement.
Pew questioned 2,252 Americans ages 16 and older via cellphones and landlines from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10, in both English and Spanish.
More than half of those surveyed said they wanted more e-book selections in their public libraries, and would be likely to check out e-readers loaded with books — a significant increase from a survey a year ago.
Roughly 69 percent said they would like to be able to try new technology devices through libraries, and 63 percent said they would like to receive customized book and music recommendations from their libraries as they do from online retailers like Amazon.com.
Some library users seemed willing to support even more changes. When asked whether libraries “should move some printed books and stacks out of public locations to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events,” 20 percent of respondents said yes and 39 percent said maybe.
Still, of the 53 percent of respondents who had visited a library or mobile book location in the last year, 73 percent said they went in order to borrow print books, and only 49 percent said they visit libraries “to sit, read, and study, or watch or listen to media.”
As a result of these conflicting messages, Zickuhr said, “Many libraries are torn between expanding their digital offerings on the latest platforms and still providing quality resources for patrons who may lack experience with technology or the means to own the latest devices.”