Young Americans have “complex and sometimes contradictory” attitudes toward libraries.
Young Americans ages 16-29 (that’s Generations Z and Y, for those keeping score) are poised to have as an epochal cultural impact as their Baby Boomer forebears. The Internet? To them, no big deal. McDonald’s? They’re eschewing the quintessential American fast food for fresher, healthier options. Movies and television? Mobile technology has untethered them from the movie theatre or home den to watch whatever they want when and where they want.
But when it comes to one of America’s most venerable institutions, the public library, young Americans are as likely as their elders to have visited one. A new Pew Research Internet Project Report examines the distinct book reading habits, library usage and attitudes about libraries among three different “generations” of Millennials: High schoolers (ages 16-17); college-aged (18-24) and those ages 25-29.
Millennials, who have usurped Baby Boomers as the largest generation in history, are as likely as older adults to have used a library or bookmobile in the past year (50 percent vs. 47 percent), and more likely to have used a library website (36 percent vs. 28 percent of those ages 30 and older)
As a group, early nine-in-ten young Americans ages 16 to 29 years-old (88 percent) have read at least one book in the past year, compared with 79 percent of people who are at least 30.
They are on equal footing with their older counterparts in the amount of book reading they do. More than four-in-ten (43 percent) report reading a book in any format on a daily basis, which is a rate similar to older adults. They have also caught up to this in their 30s and 40s in their e-reading, with 37 percent of adults ages 18-29 reporting they have read an e-book in the past year.
Anecdotally, high schoolers are more connected to their local library than older Millennials, especially around Finals time, Marketing savvy libraries offer amenities such as snacks to make the library more hospitable to students as a place to study. The Highland Park Public Library in Illinois partners with local grocers and bagel store purveyors to keep the snack tables filled.
But the Pew report finds “complex and sometimes contradictory” attitudes toward libraries. Millennials, whom studies have found to be a generation that prizes price over brand loyalty, seem to have extended this mindset to their library. The Pew report finds that young Americans are among the least likely to say that libraries are important. Whereas 32 percent of older adults would say that their library’s closing would have a major impact on them and their family, only 19 percent of those under 30 report feeling the same way. In addition, nearly seven-in-ten of respondents 30 and older say the loss of their library would have a major impact on their community, compared with 51 percent of younger Americans.
Most younger Americans feel they know their way around their library and the vast majority consider them to be warm, welcoming places, the report finds. But just over one-third (36 percent) say they know little or nothing about the local library’s services.
But the report notes that as libraries vie against digital resources for the hearts and circulation of patrons, the library continues to forge “deeper connections…often associated with key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, being a student and going through a situation in which research and data can help inform a decision.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.