A new Pew Research study just came out with some surprising facts. Apparently, people love libraries. Like, even people who don't go to libraries think that they're really cool. Even more surprising, two thirds of Americans report they have high or medium engagement with their local libraries. And although old people are the ones leaving libraries their fortunes, 30 percent of library users are young people. So for all those civic-minded book lovers who see nothing but doom and gloom on our collective reading horizon, think again.
Other interesting facts: Most library-visiting people people are engaged in other aspects of their community, too — they're more likely to socialize with friends and to know their neighbors. People who don't use libraries, on the other hand, are more likely to exhibit “lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities.”
So why are library-lovers so awesome? We have a few ideas.
Libraries are Awesome
They not only do stuff like set world records and give kids a place for an after school hang-out, they are also places where you can access truly staggering amounts of knowledge. Think about it: they employ people whose whole job is to make sure you not only can find what you're looking for, but to help you sort through what you find. How awesome is that? Pretty darn awesome. And so it makes sense that this awesome-ness rubs off.
Libraries Create a Sense of Community
So you like reading? You like knowledge? Guess what, so do all these other people! And hey, you live in this town? So do all these other people! Libraries are community fixtures for a reason. They do everything from advertise community events to simply provide a space where book lovers can all be in the same room. And people who feel like they're part of their community are more likely to do stuff like, you know, give back to their community. Libraries help make that happen.
Books Make People Think More Broadly
It's well established by now that books are super good for you. Reading makes people more comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, helps them to think more deeply about issues, increases empathy, and can even make you less racist. So places that encourage people to read are bound to produce some awesome people.
Libraries are Inclusive
Not only are libraries part of the community, they are places where everyone in the community can come and hang out. The typical library card is free, so it's not like you have to pay to get in. Plus pretty much all libraries now provide plenty of computers and free internet access. Unlike many sources of knowledge (*cough* higher education *cough*), libraries give access to all people, free.
Libraries are More Relevant Than Ever
Maybe the most surprising data point to emerge from the Pew Research study is that most library users are technologically engaged. That may sound counter-intuitive, but the truth is that in the age of information, places where information can be organized and contextualized are key. Having a librarian help you research a topic is way different from searching blindly through a Google search results page. And that can make all the difference in how people perceive the world. In other words, library users are going to be smart about their technology, rather than becoming overwhelmed by unsorted information.