Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recent Pew Study of Information Behavior

A new study has recently been released called Information Searches That Solve Problems: How people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help”. It was created through a partnership between the University Of Illinois Graduate School Of Library and Information Science and the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The full report in pdf form is here. I have listed below some of the results of the study which relate to older adults and libraries:

Library Use by Age Group

Gen Y (18-30) 62%
Gen X (31-42) 59%
Trailing Boomers (43 – 52) 57%
Leading Boomers (53-61) 46%
Matures (62-71) 42%
After Work (72+) 32%
(p. 10 of report; p. 20 of pdf)

Sarah Houghton-Jan, the LibarianInBlack, commented in a recent blog post that these statistics “… show that library use steadily declines as people age--what can we do about that? Are we neglecting our senior populations once more? Is there an opportunity for added outreach here?”

This data challenges the common view that we are already reaching the older adult demographic and do not need to market library services to this group. I agree with Sarah that we should not neglect our senior population. However, to successfully market library services to this demographic, we need a lot more data. I am very interested in finding out about older adults who do not use the library and finding out why they do not use the library. Also, what services or materials would encourage them to use the library? I hope someone does this type of research. For the 72+ age group, some of the decline in library use may be due to mobility, general health, or transportation issues. That is one reason that I hope that we can use online library services to reach out to homebound seniors in the future. Another possibility is for libraries to partner with local organizations which visit the homebound.

% of adults in each group with internet access
Gen Y (18-30) 91%
Gen X (31-42) 90%
Boomers (43 – 61) 79%
Matures (62-71) 56%
After Work (72+) 29%
(p. 3 of report; p. 13 of pdf)

This report clearly shows the digital divide in internet access between young people and older adults. Older adults do not have internet access through school and since many older adults are retired, they lack access to the internet through their place of work. Another factor is that many older adults have not been trained to use computers or search the internet. Libraries are thus a critical asset for older adults, since libraries not only provide internet access, they many also provide computer training.

Furthermore, even people with internet access often need help in finding information. The report stated that “... Americans on both sides of the digital divide – those with both low-access and high-access to computing -- are equally likely to use the public library for information that helps them address matters and solve problems in their lives – especially those matters that lie in some way within the government domain.” (p. 30 of report; p. 40 of pdf). I would add that finding government information (such as Medicare information and Social Security benefits) is of great concern to many older adults.

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