May 18, 2022

New Harris Poll Finds Satisfaction with Public Libraries Has Increased Since 2008

From Harris Interactive:

September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and the Harris Poll finds that 66% of American adults are either extremely (24%) or very (42%) satisfied with their public library. This number represents a seven percentage-point increase from the 59% of Americans who indicated the same in 2008. An additional two in ten (20%) are “somewhat” satisfied.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,306 U.S. adults surveyed online between July 16 and 21, 2014.

Unsurprisingly, those who have their own library cards are much more likely to feel extremely or very satisfied with their public library than those who do not have library cards (78% vs. 44%). Parental status also appears to be a factor when determining satisfaction. Parents are more likely than adults without children to be extremely/very satisfied with their public libraries (71% parents of children 18+ and 69% parents of children <18 vs. 62% non-parents).

Library Card Carriers

The next big question for Library Card Sign-Up Month is, of course, “Do you have a library card?” A majority of Americans (64%) have confirmed that they have a library card, down from 68% of adults in 2008. Looking across demographics:

  • When it comes to the great gender divide, women are more likely than men to have a library card (71% vs. 57%)
  • Higher levels of education coincide with higher likelihood to have a library card. Adults who have completed a postgraduate degree are the most likely to have a library card (79%), followed by a near-tie between college graduates (67%) and those who have completed some college (66%). Americans who have a high school education or less are the least likely to have a library card (58%).
  • Parental status also coincides with differences in likelihood to have a library card. Parents are more likely to own library cards than adults without kids (70% of those with children <18 and 68% of those with children 18+ vs. 60% of those without children).

Cards for kids

Speaking of library cards, when asked how important it is that a child have one of his or her own, 89% of U.S. adults believe it is important, with 56% finding it to be very important.

  • Once again, gender differences hold strong. Women are more likely than men to consider it very important that a child have their own library card (61% vs. 49%).
  • When it comes to education levels, postgraduates are the most likely to feel it is very important for children to have their own library cards (71%, vs. 51% college graduates, 62% some college and 49% HS or less).
  • It is perhaps unsurprising that those who have library cards themselves are more likely to feel it is very important for children to have their own library cards (68%) than those who do not have library cards (33%).

How often do cardholders use the library?

Nearly eight out of ten adults with library cards (78%) have used the library in the past year, while more than two in ten (21%) have not. More specifically, 28% have done so 1-5 times, 15% 6-10 times, 17% 11-25 times, and 18% have used the library 26 times or more.

Parents of children under 18 are the most likely to have used the library six or more times in the last year (61%, vs. 43% parents of children 18+ and 49% adults with no children).

Why do cardholders use the library?

When shown a list of possible library activities and asked which were the top reasons they had used their library over the last year, the majority of Americans list borrowing hardcover or paperback books (56%), followed by DVDs/videos (24%) and digital content (15%, with 13% specifying borrowing eBooks).

  • Breaking it down by gender, it appears that women are more likely than men to use the library for borrowing eBooks (15% vs. 9%) and attending a kids’ reading or storytime program (7% vs. 4%). However, women are less likely to use the library to borrow CDs/Music (7% of women vs. 12% of men), use reference materials (7% vs. 12%), and check email (5% vs. 14%), among other things.

What is a library?

Nine in ten Americans (89%) feel it is important that a library be a valuable education resource, with the majority of adults specifying they feel this is very important (59%). Meanwhile, just over three-fourths of adults consider it existing as a pillar of the community to be important (77%). In addition, roughly seven in ten Americans agree that it is important for the library to be recognized as a community center (73%), a cultural center (70%), and a family destination (68%). Finally, 65% of American adults believe it is important that a library should exist as an entertainment resource.

Access the Complete Report (With Data Tables)

Comments From Gary Price, infoDOCKET

  • IF people knew what the library had to offer (and why it might be useful to them) the library would be even more important to people. We’ve seen in several Pew studies the awareness of what the library has to offer is not what it should be.
    Furthermore, if people understood that the library offers services that can be accessed 24x7x365 from any Internet accessible computer more recognition and usage would likely come. In other words, one’s library exists in a physical location but also many services and content sources are available by simply by logging-in.
  • While librarians talk about specific types of libraries, the public doesn’t. All libraries and librarians must work together to promote our services.
  • Services and events are essential but so are the professionals who are employed there. We must do more to promote what librarians do and are capable of.
  • The library card is the gateway to many library services. So, we all must do more to at the least get cards into the hands of people. One excellent example of this took place in Philadelphia, PA when the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Public School merged Their Databases To Find About 98,000 Of The School District’s 136,000 Students Did Not Have Library Cards. Soon after the data merge took place the 98,000 students received library cards. We posted about this back in April.
About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.