Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What's the Role of Libraries in the Digital Age?

November 03, 2011

The world around us has changed so much in the past decade—and even in the past two years.  As technologies advance, almost everyone is touched by digital information. Many use it in nearly every aspect of their lives. And public libraries, critical technology hubs for communities, are helping to make sure all people are able to benefit from these changes. That’s why it’s so important to know what library patrons need.

An important research project just launched this week, and will tell us more about the role of libraries in the digital age.  

In 2010, research from the Institute of Museum and Library Services found that one in three Americans over the age of 14—77 million people—went to the library in 2009 to use a computer or access library wireless Internet services. Of those people, 42 percent used library computer services to further their education, 40 percent came in for career help, and 37 percent came for answers to health questions.

Even many of us who had worked with America’s public libraries for a decade were surprised that a third of Americans relied so heavily on the free access to computers, training, and internet provided at the 17,000 public libraries nestled in nearly every community in the country.

So, what do we think we’ll learn from this new round of research? 

We know the work will be done by one of the foremost researchers in the country. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project will study the changing role of Public Libraries and library users in the digital age. Pew will look at eBooks, digital content, and trends in reading. They will ask library patrons what they expect from their libraries—and which services are more or less important. And Pew will tell us a little bit about who comes to the library, and who does not.

Armed with that information, community leaders and library staff will be able to better evolve library services to track with today’s digital landscape. The first findings will be available 1Q2012. I’m sure it will make for a very interesting read. Stay tuned! 

 
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