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Survey: Americans Love Their Public Libraries

Pew Research Center findings show people overwhelmingly feel public libraries are important to them and their communities

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

In warm rebuke to the age of growing privatization, Americans are saying clearly: we love our public libraries.

Public library patrons taking advantage of books, computer access and a quiet place to read. (Photo: NJLA/New Jersey Library Association) The news follows the release of a survey this week by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that gathered data from Americans ages 16 and up on library use.

The survey shows that 91% of people felt libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.

And while technological services offered at libraries, like taking advantage of free computers and free internet access are important to the survey takers, print books are still essential, with 80% of respondents saying borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.

Libraries continue to evolve with the changing technological landscape, and library patrons report in the survey they welcome the environment to test out and get assistance with new technologies. But part of what public libraries offer involves nothing high-tech at all.

David Morris, co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance writes in All Hail the PUBLIC Library:

For a greater number of people than we might care to believe, the library serves as a warm and dry sanctuary, a place they can sit without fear of being bothered. For others, it is a refuge from loneliness, a place full of hustle and bustle, where they can attend a concert, or hear a lecture or read a magazine free of charge.

Also lauding the essential services at libraries, Shareable's Cat Johnson explains:

Many libraries offer cultural programs such as art exhibits and musical performances, community-building events, multi-lingual and ESL events and computer classes that range from operational basics to digital media and programming. While libraries around the country have classes in business software, the Internet and social media, some branches, such as the Skokie Public Library in Illinois, have become creative workshops, offering classes in GarageBand, digital photography, Photoshop and more.

Libraries offer parenting and retirement planning workshops, GED-prep, tax filing assistance, law advice and small business classes. They also provide resources for job seekers through online application assistance, resume-building and writing workshops, employment counseling and the like. The 2010-2011 Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study reports that 90 percent of libraries provide access to job databases and online job resources; 74 percent offer software to help patrons create resumes and other employment materials; 72 percent help patrons complete online applications, and 81 percent provide assistance applying to or accessing e-government services.

Being vital places as well as wise investments for communities, public librares should be defended. Morris adds:

We need a grassroots effort to defend our public libraries, an effort that can and should be part of a growing nationwide and international effort to defend the public sphere itself.

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