The function of the public library is changing, according to a new report from The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The report, "Library Services in the Digital Age," was compiled by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell from October to November 2012 in the US. The survey included 2252 respondents who are 16 years or older. From this data, they concluded that there needs to be a bigger collection of digital services that can supplement standard library services, such as signing out books and using reference desks.

Digital: A Supplement to Other Library Services

Libraries, no matter what they are used for, are important to just about everyone. According to the survey's results, 91 percent of respondents said that their community's library was a essential part of their and their families lives. Most of the time, libraries are not only seen as a place to borrow books, but a social center and place of learning. With the inclusion of computers in libraries over the past decade and more recently e-book borrowing programs, libraries can offer patrons more and more services. Unlike before, visitors don't have to rely on staff to help them find a particular book, as many libraries have a computer database, as well as e-books that users can borrow from the comfort of their own home. 

While 80 percent of those surveyed said that both borrowing books and having a reference librarian service is an essential part of the library experience they recognize that there is a technological demand..

In the report, 37 percent of respondents found that they would “very likely” use an "Ask an Librarian" service on a computer, while 36 percent that they would be “somewhat likely" to use this service. Others were looking for tools that would help them navigate the library better. 35 percent that they would probably end up using app-based library materials and programs, while 34 percent said that would try using GPS navigation to help them move about the library more easily.

In addition to this, there are two other services that have garnered a large amount of public support in the survey.

  • Redbox: A Redbox is a type of kiosk where users can check out books, movies and music without having to go the library and spend time searching their database and shelves.
  • Recommended reading: Over one fourth of those who were surveyed found that the “Amazon” style of recommending books based on a person’s past browsing or borrowing behavior would be something they'd find useful. For example, if a person read a book on Winston Churchill it might be suggested that that they’d be interested in a book on the Battle of Britain.

While less than half of those surveyed supported these ideas, it shows that there is a public interest, and if incorporated into the library model these services could prove successful.

Internet Usage at Library

As was mentioned, many libraries started having computers over a decade ago, but the way that these devices are used has changed; they aren't only being used to type up school reports, or play computer games. With a 26 percent usage, among those surveyed, 66 percent of those who use a library computer do so for research purposes, while 54 percent checked their email, 36 percent they were looking for or applying for jobs, while 35 percent visited a social networking site.

A Library is Not Just a Building

The survey also compiled data based on other changes to the traditional library system. In recent years, bookmobiles have become more popular for those who can't always make it to the library -- 53 percent of Americans surveyed visited a library or bookmobile in the last 12 months. In addition to this, 25 percent visited a library website and 13 percent used a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet to access a library website.

While it appears libraries and their services are changing or attempting to change, most people use them the traditional way. Seventy-three percent say they still visit a library to borrow a print book, 50 percent say they visit to get help from a librarian, while only 46 percent use a digital research database.

Therefore, there may be a demand for more digital services and more people using its internet services, but for now libraries are still mostly seen as a place to borrow books.

Pew Research in the News

This isn't the only recent report that Pew Research has done. Towards the end of 2012, they released data on mobile advertising and mobile customer experience.