cil2008 keynote: libraries solve problems!

Lee Rainie – Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project

“I’ve atoned for a major sin I committed last year “- at the dawn of the Pew Project he submitted a grant proposal and didn’t name librarians as potential stakeholders of the Project. Since he’s learned that librarians are valuable stakeholders and have listed them at the top of the survey. “I adore librarians to the 10th power now.”

Who is blogging this session? – show of hands. This is what happens in the age of user-gen content – even d-list celebrities are offered their moment in the sun. It can be disorienting. In one presentation when he didn’t use slides there was a live relay chat going on behind him – some positive comments, also “he is a lot older than I imagined.” and “he looks like another Foundation suit.” Resolution – “information markets are clearly self-correcting.”

Grand meta conclusions of Pew project – image of t-shirt reading “librarians rock.”

Status report on information ecosystem – industrial age of infomedia, information scarce and dependent on corporate interests, whereas now it’s personally oriented and near ubiquitous. In 2000, 73% of teenagers use internet – era of “slow and stationary connections.” 46% of adults online, 5% used broadband. Now, 54% have broadband at home, 62% connect wirelessly, 75% of adults use the internet, many mobile wireless users, 78% use wireless – era of “fast and mobile connections.” Digital divide notions that have dominated our culture have turned upside down – now, more depend on cellphones for their connectivity, wireless connection has reinvigorated people’s relationship with email… death of email predictions premature. “Wirelessness matters”, and Pew will keep tracking it.

Home media ecology in the “industrial era” vs. now – much more complex, new gadgets, etc. – people are using the internet as storage, which is a new way to be thinking about storage. The internet is the computer, and is the storage device for stuff. This changes the relationship that people used to have which was more rooted in physical devices.

Young people using digital cameras, posting pictures. Pictures as currency of community and community building much like text.

Older folks online – what happens when older people use Facebook? Is it less desirable?

26% of young adults have helped someone else with a blog, website, etc. There’s a lot of blogging going on, but the concept of blogging is a little hazy due to blog functionality being built into social sites like Facebook. Harder to talk to people about blog reading – looks like a regular media site, how do people distinguish a blog from other types of websites? Complicates tracking this aspect of online experience at Pew.

People are remixing, creating avatars (20% of young adults have done this), maintaining sites (not much growth in this in young population).

Market research survey for librarians – “Information Searches that Solve Problems,” IMLS/UIC/Gov’t Printing . How do people find information to solve problems? Remainder of talk is related to problem-solving oriented queries. Came from a Gov’t Printing Office query, “where and how do people want their government information?”

Focusing information – asked people 10 questions about diff. sorts of problems that could have occured in the past two years that required information searching, such as illness, employment issues, voter registration, or local government. About 80% said they had gone through at least one of these types of problems.

Asked them about library patronage – 53% of adults had been to their local library within the last year. When one starts unpacking this number, interesting findings – young adults are the most likely to have been library visitors, 62% had been to a local public library. Surprising – many of us have taken to heart the perceptions that libraries are becoming outmoded. It turns out that many young people are finding utility in libraires.

“We have brand new numbers on teen use of libraries, and it’s way up from the dawn of the project – 60% of teens use the internet at the library.”

Other findings that surprise – those who visit libraries are more likely to have higher incomes and be higher educated – they are more likely to be internet users, participate in their communities. Only 28% of non-internet users are library users. Library patrons are more likely to be broadband users. Parents of minor children are likelier to be users. Also, no difference in library use based on race or ethnicity.

Even some problem findings on library use can be quite useful when unpacked. Of information sources people turned to for information, internet was first (60ish%), but only 15% consulted libraries. Low number, but positive implications within this numbers, Young adults are more likely than others to use libraries to find information (21%), also blacks, latinos, and general lower income users are more likely to use libraries to solve problems.

Once people got to the library, 69% talked to library staff, 68% used computers, 38% got one-on-one instruction. Future intentions on library visits – 29% of survey population would be likely to go to libraries for help again, while 68% of regular library patrons said so – regular patrons know and understand what libraries can do for them.

Takeaways and Implication

1 – 53% of public as library users is not a bad number. Public education efforts are important – libraries need to promote how we have changed, what we can offer. Focus on success stories and competence. “The people who know you best are the ones who keep coming back.” Awareness is a baseline inhibitor of people using libraires, they simply may not know about all the great stuff we can do. Being better in the area of user generated content will help.

2 – Your patrons are happy and some are zealous advocates. Era of consumer advocates, libraries had a lot of these, many are influential. We need to get a handle on this now or they will hammer us in the future.

3 – Your “un-patrons” are primed to seek you out. People who might be more dependent on libraries are aware of what we offer. Keys to patronage – build awareness, offer a comfortable environment, provide mentoring skills.

4 – Aspire to be a node in people’s social networks. Social networks are for learning, news, navigation, support, and problem solving.

5 – Offer your expertise in new literacies. Graphic literacy, etc.

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