CIL2008: Keynote on “Libraries Solve Problems”

I’m attending Computers in Libraries 2008 and will be blogging many of the sessions I attend… I’ll post my (mostly unedited) notes. If you’re at CIL, look me up!
Presented by Lee Rainie, Director of Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Blogging is about information and communication. This is what makes the Internet so wonderful. That’s what the era of user-generated content is all about.
Information was scarce, expensive, and institutionally oriented. now, it’s abundant, cheap, and personally oriented.
In 2000; 46% of adults used the internet; 73% of teenagers. 5% had broadband at home. 50% owned a cell phone. Nobody connected wirelessly. Phone line ruled.
2008: 75% of adults, 93% of teens use internet. 54% have broadband at home. 78% own cell phone. 62% connect wirelessly (42% by wireless, 59% use cell phones over data networks — overlap is 62%). Cell phone users tend to be minorities, less well educated — reverses digital divide fears. Wireless connectivity is determinant of Internet behavior. Results in resurgence of email — on a cell phone, email matters a lot. News becomes more important, too – broadly defined. Fast and mobile connections rule.
The home media ecology is immensely complex. Data moves from this to that (TiVo to computer, cell phone to cable box, etc.). Internet becomes “cloud” — it’s where important stuff is stored. The Internet is the computer and storage device. This has huge, not yet understood, implications.
Content creation — 62% young adult users have uploaded photos to the internet. 34% of all users have done this. It’s an obligation of sorts to photo-document their lives. Pictures are currency of community building and communication.
58% have created a profile on social networks (33% of adults) on MySpace, Facebook, etc. 39% of online teens (13% of online adults) share and create content online.
A quarter of online teens help others get their stuff online.
33% of online college students keep blogs. 54% of online college students read blogs. 12% of online adults have blogs; 35% read them. This gets hard to measure because blogging is baked into all sorts of tools. Reading blogs even more so; what’s a blog? What do people recognize as a blog?
19% of online young adults have created an avatar that interacts with others. 6% of online adults do this.
New research on libraries in the information ecosystem. Original question was from GPO — how do people want government documents (online, print, mail, etc.)? Survey grew to be much broader: How do people get information to help them solve problems that could have a government connection or be aided by government resources?
Asked about 10 broad areas: health, schooling, taxes, jobs, Medicare, Social Security, voter registration, local government, legal actions, immigration. About 80% of respondents had been through at least one of these problem classes and needed information. This makes about 169 million adults. Survey asked where they found information? Libraries included in possible responses. 53% of adults had been to a local library in the past year. Gen Y (age 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%. Youngest cohort had the highest use of libraries. Teen use of libraries: 60% of online teens use the internet at libraries, up from 36% in 2000. Youth use libraries, contrary to expectations.
Those who use libraries are more likely to come from higher-income households. More likely to Internet users. More likely to have broadband at home. Parents with minor children at home more likely. Libraries matter more in the Internet age, not less (as previous expectations were). Internet users are more active in information gathering and usage than non-users. No real difference in patronage based on race or ethnicity.
How people solve problems? What sources did you use when you confronted the most recent problem you faced? 58% used Internet overall. 53% turned to professionals, then other sources. However, young adults (18-29) 21%. Blacks 26%; Latinos (22%). Younger people relied on libraries, as did minorities and lower income users.
Most popular problem-solving searches at libraries: schooling/education, finding ways to pay. Then jobs, serious illness, taxes, medicare/medicaid.
Once people are at the library… 69% got help from staff. 68% used computers (38% got technical assistance). 58% sought reference materials. People and resources matter. Libraries are social learning experience.
Future intentions: Would you go back to the library for a future problem? Overall, about 29% were somewhat likely or more. But — less well off (40%); Gen Y (41%), less educated (41%), Latinos (42%), Blacks (48%).
Why are youth so library-centric? Lee’s hypothesis: they have the most recent experience with libraries (through school assignments). Based on recent experience, they are more aware of how libraries have changed, more than other age groups. They know libraries can help.
Takeaways and Implications
Public education efforts about what libraries do and how we have changed are likely to pay off. Focus on success stories and competence. The people who know us best are the ones who keep coming back.
Patrons are happy and zealous advocates. Encourage your patrons to evangelize on your behalf. Give them Web 2.0 tools and, if needed, training to use them. They are eager to give you feedback.
Your “un-patrons” are primed to think of libraries. Need to let them know what you offer: tools available, training, mentoring skills, comfortable environment.
This is the era of social networks. People rely more now on social networks than ever before. They are for learning, news/navigation, support and problem solving. This last point is very important. Libraries can have a huge role in this. How can library be a node in social network.
Virtual communities are becoming more person-centric. Not created by a “publisher”, but ad hoc built around your friends and people you trust.

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