CiL 2008 Keynote: Libraries Solve Problems!

Speaker: Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project

[Prez of InfoToday, in his introduction, announced that 2202 attendees are registered for this conference with 49 states (no one from Wyoming), Puerto Rico, D.C., and 18 countries (7 Canadian provinces) represented. 186 speakers and moderators this year!]

[House-keeping note from Jane Dysart: The men’s restroom on the ballroom level is now a women’s restroom, so the guys will have to go up to the exhibit level. There was much rejoicing.]

Rainie began by apologizing for not originally including librarians as stakeholders in the work of PIALP. This year, his new grant proposal lists librarians at the top, which was well received by the audience. He thanked librarians for their active involvement with the Pew project.

Bloggers were thanked for raising awareness of the Pew project, and for praising Rainie’s past presentations. Yay, bloggers! New media rocks. “Blogging is about community and connection as much as it is about publishing.”

In 2000, studies showed that most Internet connections were via dial-up, and no one was using wireless. In 2007, more than 50% of Americans now access the Internet via broadband, and 62% connect via wireless, both through computers or through cell phones. Wireless connectivity is decreasing the digital divide, and it also responsible for the resurgence of the value of email. “The reports of the death of email are premature.”

Information and communication technology tools are now so interconnected that it’s changing the way we think about information storage and retrieval. The Internet is becoming our storage device, which we access through various portals such as cell phones, TiVo, and yes, computers.

39% of online teens share their creative content through sites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. 33% of college students blog, and 54% read them. However, many are blogging through social networking tools or course management tools and they don’t necessarily identify them as blogs. Avatars are now considered to be creative content, which is something I hadn’t thought about before.

A recent grant research with funding from IMLS and in partnership with IUC, PIALP looked at how folks get information from government sources to solve problems. 79.5% of the adults surveyed had, in the past two years, had an information need that could have been satisfied by information from government agencies. Gen Y (18-30) were the most likely to have visited a library in their search for information (62%), followed closely by Gen X (31-42) at 58%. (Psst… 60% of online teens use the Internet at libraries, up from 36% in 2000!)

Don’t listen to the naysayers who claim that the Internet is killing libraries. Public library users are more likely to be Internet users. Those who are information seekers are more likely to be adventurous in exploring information sources. Broadband users are also more likely to use a public library, and there is no difference in the patronage of libraries based on ethnicity. Young adults are more likely to visit a library to solve a problem than any other age group!

Users talked to library staff to solve their information needs slightly more than using the technology provided by the library, which were the top two ways that they found solutions to their problems. Gen Y users are generationally most likely to return to a library. Rainie thinks that because Gen Y users have been forced to use libraries through school projects, and they have seen how libraries have grown and changed over the years to meet their needs, so they have a good feeling about libraries as a source for solving their problems.

Rainie’s take-away message is that libraries need to do more publicity about how they can solve problems. “The people who know you best are the ones that keep coming back.” Let’s tell our success stories to more than just each other, which we already do a pretty good job of. Give our fans the tools to evangelize and provide feedback, and they can have a significant impact on raising awareness of libraries. Create a comfortable environment for “un-patrons” so that they aren’t afraid to ask questions and learn the technology. Become a node in social networks. (For example, Facebook apps for searching library resources or communicating with reference librarians may not be as unwanted as we might think they are.)

Rainie is an engaging speaker that I look forward to hearing from him in the future.

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