Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Public Libraries Vs. the Internet: Do We Have a Chance?

“The Impact of the Internet on Public Library Use” article outlined the results of a study done by George D’Elia, Corrine Jorgensen, Joseph Woelfel and Eleanor Jo Rodger. The study wanted to investigate the relationship between the Internet and the library in terms of information seeking individuals. They saw that many services which the library offered were also offered by the Internet, and they wanted to see which ones consumers chose, why and how well this decision fit their information needs. This was done by surveying 3,097 English and Spanish-speaking adults (above the age of 18) through a Random Digit Dialing telephone survey on their use of the library and the internet, their information needs and the service they expected (and to what extent received) from both the library and the internet.

After analyzing the data, the group came to the conclusion that at this point the use of the library and the use of the internet are seen by a majority of the public as “complementary.” However, the study also concluded that “…the Internet was overwhelmingly preferred over the library for the majority of uses, many of which fall under the library’s traditional mission of information provision.” When discussing services provided by the library and the Internet, “…the users of both the Internet and the library rated the Internet superior to the library for 10 out of 16 service characteristics.” D’Elia, Jorgensen, Woelfel and Rodger basically recommend that the library begin actively reevaluating their mission statement and role in society, something they don't see happening at this point in time.

In reading the results of this study, were you worried about the future of libraries? Or do you feel it’s impossible to make the issue so black and white? Will library patrons who use the internet really chose between the two and never look back?

To look at this issue historically, is the idea of libraries competing with another service, business or institution only a new phenomenon? Or were there other periods in library history where this occurred?

10 comments:

Jeremy4031 said...

I do know this: Around the time that Victrolas and recorded music on Edison cylinders became popular, there was a major fear that literacy itself was going to die out: No one would need to read anymore and that all information would be in audio format and libraries would turn into "listening centers."

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

I am hopeful that the library will remain THE place to go for information, no matter what technological changes comes. The library did not become 'listening centers', and hopefully my local library does not become a 'Net center. I wonder if the library will become the domain for those who cannot afford new technology, while those who can afford such things will shun the library in general?

Nancy S. said...

I don't think we have to worry about libraries becoming 'Net centers or obsolete. The study shows that users differentiate between information provided at the library and on the internet. It seems from the study that the main deterrent from using the library is convenience and lack of time. For this reason the internet is more widely used; however, this does not mean that people would want only the internet, it is just easier to use most of the time.

Kristin said...

I find it difficult to treat the two as direct competitors. The internet is a resource, both tool and toy. A public library is a physical space, educated staff, primary resources, subscriptions, access to technology and databases, and hard copies of information. For a society going paperless, we sure use a lot of paper. The internet is not something that will take away patrons, it is another tool librarians can use to better serve those patrons. The way a public library functions may change over time, but I do not see any technology replacing the library.

Lia said...

Kristin has succintly stated many of my thoughts with libraries and the internet. When you think about it, how many people come in to a library just to use the computers, particularly the internet? Quite a few, and those people are often the ones who cannot afford a computer or internet access in their own home and need the library to provide that access and equipment. Many libraries have used the internet to their advantage -- many of the library branches in the Chicago Public Library system when I worked there had aquired new computers (sometimes more than what the branches had previously), which meant that the increased use of the computers often meant more people walking in the door and therefore increased the number of users in the library. And increased numbers always look good for a library. Some branches even saw circulation rates increase due to the computers, so the internet can be a good thing for libraries.
One more thought on that: by providing computers and the internet to the public, libraries are acting as equalizers in society for people who normally without the library would not have access to these things do have access. And I think that's a great thing, not something to be feared.

SarahStumpf said...

Other people have said many of my thoughts already, but I just have one more thing to add.

If the Internet was going to replace libraries all together, wouldn't it have done that by now? You gotta figure, the net has been around since 1996, and high speed internet has been growing in usage since 2000. Has library usage plummetted in the last 5-10 years? I have yet to see anything to suggest so.

Libraries need to incorporate the net, but I'm not one to get behind this chicken little-esque "the sky is falling" mentality.

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heather said...

Call me a debbie-downer, but I think it would be worthwhile to discuss the problems/challenges that the internet has created in the public library setting. I've worked at two different libraries within the last eight years and both were/are constantly struggling with unacceptable abuses of the service. By now, most libraires have internet-use policies, but enforcement of the guidelines is a constant battle. Not only do librarians have to somehow monitor pornography, but librarians are also becoming clock-watchers enforcing time limits. And it does not matter if the library has software installed to limit use, people manage to get around it by logging in with various library cards. While most people are respectful users, there is a fairly substantial population of abusers. How does this fit in with the study?

Hannah Gray said...

According to a user survey conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology users of the Internet utilize it primarily for "gathering info. for personal needs, entertainment, education, work/business, shopping/gathering product info., time-wasting, and communication with others. Using this information, it seems these reasons are "roughly comparable to our list of library uses". These comparisons are only roughly comparable, however, and it seems that there will remain a place for libraries in the future. If people are looking for anything more specific than general info., the library is a useful place to look, or at least books are and I think that if books remain as sources of info., so will the library. Maybe we should worry about books as sources of info. first?

Gillian D. said...

At this point in my exciting library school career, I believe I've been involved in discussions around this issue at least half-a-dozen times. The internet will replace traditional library occurences in some ways. This is not a bad thing. The internet has changed and improved library services in so many ways that I can't get annoyed at people for using it.

We just can't allow ourselves to ignore the internet, or to completely ignore things like books and other non-internetty stuff.