Belinda Huang ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Just type “The Death of Libraries” into Google Search and meet the pages and pages of articles, all from different publications and sources, lamenting the decline of America’s public library system. These articles cite funding cuts, the boom in information technologies, and, inevitably, the apathy of the self-centered Millennial generation, as reasons why libraries are becoming obsolete. New research, however, could prove this view very wrong.
Pew Research data published on September 10th indicates that young people harbor more interest and faith in the library system than their parents do, putting to rest the perpetual fear that libraries will die out soon because of young people’s disinterest. One interesting find of the report is that, compared with 53% of older Americans, 62% of Americans under age 30 agree that libraries house “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the internet.”
It seems that, as counterintuitive as it may sound, increasing technological use can also mean increased interest in the way we access, store and consume information, leading to greater appreciation of libraries as a resource. In fact, teenagers (ages 16-17) were the only age group that was more likely to borrow books from the library instead of buying them, which shows that young people appreciate libraries for their original function—free books and information.
The study also found that teenagers are more likely than their older counterparts to get book recommendations from librarians. Although advances in technology have definitely shifted the way people read, it is still easier to go to a library and see the variety of books on the shelf than to browse online, especially if a reader doesn’t know exactly what they are looking for. The best resource for recommendations is always going to be a trained librarian who can give their own personal opinions and lead readers to lesser-known books that better suit their tastes and interests.
Despite these encouraging numbers, the data also shows that people under 30 don’t rely on their libraries for community support, which can be explained in part by the fact that over half of the people in this demographic have lived in their current residence for fewer than five years. However, the study also found that people who are most connected to libraries are also in the midst of “key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, [or] being a student.” As young people will inevitably be students and job seekers, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that libraries will always have a function to be a resource for these situations. The fact that young people still value what libraries offer in terms of research and book-related resources means that it is unlikely that these institutions will fail, despite the changes in technology that could make physical books less popular.
In fact, one community invested $2.3 million in designing a library that caters to the digital side of librarianship. In January 2014, San Antonio, Texas, opened their first bookless library, likening it to an Apple store, with nearly fifty iMacs and numerous eReaders available for visitors. In supplementing the existing library system with more targeted technological services, the county hopes to better serve its inhabitants and cater to the changing times. So far, it seems to be a successful venture for the county, which is on track to bring 100,000 visitors to the “BiblioTech” this year.
Even this news, however, shouldn’t spell the end of the library as we know it—other bookless libraries in California and Arizona folded after the public demanded physical books. This love of reading is shown by the Pew Research to be across age groups, with an equal percentage of young and old Americans reading every day. This shared interest in reading is an encouraging sign of young people’s attitudes towards libraries and perhaps to the longevity of libraries themselves.
In the end, it may be that libraries with drawing points beyond their book stacks— environmentally friendly architecture or cutting edge technology, for example—will make a bigger and more long-term impact on their community. But if, as the numbers suggest, Millennials are going to continue reading and borrowing, libraries will be providing these core services for many years to come.