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Libraries and Problem Solving: New Pew Report

Lee Rainie told me a couple of weeks ago that this was coming out before the end of the year and here it is:
Information searches that solve problems
How people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help

DECEMBER 30, 2007
Leigh Estabrook, Professor Emerita, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Evans Witt, CEO, PSRAI
Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project
Key news:
1. Most people were successful in getting information to help them address a problem no matter what channel they chose and no matter what problem they faced. 64% of those who went to the public library were very successful.
2. The problems covered in the survey: 1) dealing with a serious illness or health concern; 2) making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; 3) dealing with a tax matter; 4) changing a job or starting a business; 5) getting information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps; 6) getting information about Social Security or military benefits; 7) getting information about voter registration or a government policy; 8) seeking helping on a local government matter such as a traffic problem or schools; 9) becoming involved in a legal matter; and 10) becoming a citizen or helping another person with an immigration matter.
3. 13% said they went to the public library for these problems. The survey results challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes, not just the problems mentioned in this survey. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.
Executive Summary
This report emerges from a national survey that looks at how people use a variety of information sources to help them address some common problems that could be related in some way to government agencies and programs. The problems about which we queried included: dealing with a serious illness or health concern; making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; dealing with a tax matter changing a job or starting a business; and getting information about major programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The survey’s major findings:
The internet is a go-to source. In general, more people turn to the internet (at
home, work, libraries or other places) than any other source of information and
support, including experts and family members. There was some variance in the
results, depending on the type of problem people faced. Experts mattered most
when people faced health problems; government agencies topped the list when
information about specific programs was the concern.
Searchers usually end up satisfied. People tended to use two or three
information sources in their quest and they generally report good results,
especially when they consult government agencies, librarians, and the internet.
Libraries meet special needs. Young adults in Generation Y (age 18-29) are the heaviest users of libraries when face these problems. They are also the most likely
library visitors for any purpose. Most of those who visit libraries to seek problemsolving
information are very satisfied with what they find and they appreciate the
resources available there, especially access to computers and the internet.
Digital divides matter. Compared to those who have broadband connections,
people who do not use the internet or who only use dial-up connections have
different problems and different search strategies when they face personal issues.
We call this group the low-access population and they are less successful than
those with high-access to the internet in getting the material they need to address
these problems.
Government documents should be created and delivered in all shapes and
sizes. A plurality of respondents said they prefer access to government documents
on the internet, but significant numbers said they still would prefer to get printed
government publications by mail or from government offices and libraries.
E-government is not an option, it’s a necessity. The vast majority of Americans want and expect information about government programs to be available on the
internet. People have different preferences for dealing with government,
depending on the issue they face. They prefer to use the internet for information
queries, but they want to use the phone or face-to-face visits to address more
personal matters.”
Table of contents
Executive Summary and Major Findings
Chapter 1: Libraries, Information, and the Internet
A Portrait of Those with Low-access to the Internet
Views of those with Low-access
Chapter 2: Americans in contact with their government
78% of internet users have visited government websites
How would American like to contact their governments?
Chapter 3: Who goes to Public Libraries?
Chapter 4: Where do Americans turn for information or help?
What search strategies do Americans use for problem solving?……………………………13
Specifically, how did they contact the government?
Non-internet users who “use” the internet
Chapter 5: Public Libraries step up
Which problems drive people to libraries?
The kind of help people got at libraries 0
Did people get personal help at the library?
Why not go to the public library?
Will the public library be a source in the future?
Chapter 6: Successful Encounters and Best Sources
Which sources provide the most?
Chapter 7: The Impact of Privacy Concerns on Information Seeking
Chapter 8: The Special Circumstances: Low-access to the Internet
Chapter 8: Where Libraries stand
I will look forward to hearing Lee present the findings at the SirsiDynix SuperConference in Detroit. His annual reports to our customers are always the hit of the event.

Posted on: December 30, 2007, 10:29 pm Category: Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Interesting to compare PEW’s result (Libraries = 13%) with OCLC’s (Libraries = 1% I believe it was). I don’t think people’s usage would change that much in a couple of years; I suspect instead that the type of questions asked contributed to the difference (the specificity of PEW’s problems that could be related to government programs vs. OCLC’s more general query of where people get information from.)