The Pew, the library, and you

Last week, the Pew Internet Project released its latest report, Library Services in the Digital Age. Pew studies are very influential in the library and education fields, but what’s the story behind Pew reports and how might they be weathervanes for your future library experience?

The Pew Research Center is a nonprofit “fact tank,” and their Internet Project was created in the 90s to conduct highly rigorous studies on who uses the Internet, and why. The first report, in 2000, was directed primarily at policy-makers and tech leader types, but was devoured by many others, including library leaders. Support for subsequent studies was such that the Pew Internet Project has the ability to track and study anything new/hot/Internet with the intensity of a thousand suns. And that’s why their studies receive coast-to-coast media coverage, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, in addition to lots of attention in “library land.”

The bottom line of the latest findings, based on a national survey of Americans ages 16 and over, will shock 0% of current Robbins users, and it is that libraries are still relevant! More interesting are the finer details; that free computers and Internet access are seen as an even more vital library service than providing books and reference service, even as 80% still categorize book lending and reference services as “very important.” Americans’ technology expectations for their libraries are developing in new directions too. Chat reference, apps-based services/GPS based library navigation, technology “petting zoos” where library users can try out new e-readers, lending machines that can dispense library materials Redbox-style in remote locations like T stops, and customized recommendation schemes based on what sorts of items you check out…all of these concepts represent the winds of change in library technology services.

Some have already reached Robbins Library, and others are on the way. We offer chat reference services (the chat tab pops into view in the lower right corner on every page of our website), we’re hosting an All About eReaders program on February 20 where you can come and try out Nooks and Kindles and iPads (oh my!), and while we don’t have vending machines around town we DO have a vending machine in the Reference area that dispenses a netbook you can use in the library with a swipe of your library card. One day soon, you might use your smartphone to find out which floor the materials you need are on, or give us your reading preferences in an online form so we can recommend the perfect book.

So the next time you see or hear a Pew Internet & American Life Project reference in your daily news feed, you’ll know which way the wind is blowing, and that our windows are wide open. Metaphorically speaking.

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