CIL2008 – Libraries Solve Problems!

Our first keynote was by Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project. As usual, he asked us who’s blogging? He also showed us blog posts about him – from previous years – maybe next year something I’ve said here will be on his presentation 🙂

Why does he ask this? Because blogging is about community building and communication – this is what makes the internet so different and so wonderful – and this is what the era of user generated content is all about – which is a great intro into what followed.

Stats Review


  • 75% of adults use internet
  • 54% with broadband at home
  • 78% own a cell phone
  • 62% connect to internet wirelessly


  • 0% connect to internet wirelessly
  • 5% with broadband at home
  • 46% of adults use the internet
  • 50% own a cell phone

Wireless connectivity has actually brought back the interest in email – the reports of death of email are premature. Wireless also changes people’s ideas about news – people are much more interested in using the internet to connect to news because it’s quick and up-to-date.

In addition to wireless, pictures are now are as important for communication and community as text is – everyone taking pictures (see Flickr for cil2008). In fact, 33% of online adults have profiles on MySpace and Facebook which is amazing – and means they’re sharing information graphically as well as textually.

Which brings us to the fact that blogging is getting hard to talk about because people aren’t seeing what they’re doing as blogging – like if you post on MySpace and Facebook – they don’t realize that that this is actually a way of blogging

Today’s issues

The question this keynote was addressing was how people get information to help them solve problems, this is not a look at general interest information searches. The audience of this study consisted of approximately 169 million adults that have said that they had to find information related to health issues, government, immigration and education.

In the results, 53% of Americans said that they had been to their local library in the last year. But it’s only once you unpack this information that you get to the really interesting part:

  • 62% from Gen Y
  • 59% from Gen X
  • 57% trailing boomers (43-52)

Younger people are using the library more!!! You know – those kids we keep saying can’t read and that we have to get in the door – they’re already there!! In fact, 60% of online teens use the internet at libraries…

Who turns to libraries for problem solving?

  • Young adults – 18-29 = 21%
  • Older (over 70) = 15%
  • Blacks = 26%
  • Latinos = 22%
  • Lower income < $40,000 = 17%

And the most popular problem-solving searches done at libraries:

  1. decisions related to education or getting training (self or child)
  2. jobs
  3. serious illness
  4. taxes
  5. medicare

Of these people:

  • 69% talked to library staff
  • 68% used computers (38% got one-on-one instruction)

Shows that both technology and computers matter – patrons are using both almost equally!! How awesome is that??

When asked what their future intentions for visiting the library were, 29% said they likely would go to libraries – once again it’s the break down that’s interesting:

  • Less well off – 40%
  • Gen Y – 41%
  • Less educated 41%
  • Latinos – 42%
  • Blacks – 48%

So what are the young people the most likely to come in and come back? Why do they have an affinity for libraries? Lee’s hypothesis is that young people have had the most recent experience with libraries – they’ve done homework there – they’ve been forced to go in – and so they are more aware of how libraries have changed than any other age group – they’ve witnessed the change and they know that we can help – they have had good experiences and they are likely to repeat then.

Lee reminds us that the people who are likely to go to libraries are those who know you and love you best! We just need to educate people on how we’ve changed – put more effort into public education on what you do and how you do it – this could really pay off.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your patrons are happy (and some are zealous) advocates. This being the era of consumer evangelists – some of whom might be influential in your community. Give them the tools necessary (blogs, etc) to share the good news about your library.

Even your “un-patrons” are primed to seek you out. The people who might be more dependent on libraries for help are awake of what you offer and your special skills. Keys for their patronage include awareness of your work, comfort in your environment (embarrassed to look stupid – nervous to ask questions), and mentoring skills (provide tech support and hand holding and get people up to speed).


This is the era of social networks – people rely on these networks more now than they ever have. Libraries should aspire to be a node in people’s social networks – social networks are for learning – social networks are for news and navigation – social networks are for support and problem-solving.

I have to be honest, I was a bit worried that Lee’s talk would be the same one I’ve heard for years here at CIL – but I’m glad I gave it a chance! This was new content and it’s more interesting listening to him talking about it instead of reading the report alone 😉

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  1. (from a millennial librarian) I think that Gen Y holds 62% of the people that have visited the library in the last year b/c of their economic status. I know that I use my local library b/c I have to “borrow” books b/c I can’t afford to buy 20 books per year! Also, some Gen Ys (b/c of lower salaries at entry level jobs cannot afford computers or internet bills). My laptop busted a few months ago.. and therefore I will be laptopless b/c it’s simply not in my budget b/c of student loans.

    Librarians are important to our current and future patrons- especially as we head into a recession.

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