May 19, 2022

New Pew Report: “Libraries at the Crossroads”, Includes Data About Ebook Usage

Here are a few of many highlights and findings found in the new Pew report. You can access the full text here. A PDF version (52 pages) is also available.

We’ve also shared a few comments at the bottom of this post.


 On Library Ebook Borrowing and Usage

  • People are increasingly aware that they can borrow e-books at their public library. Some 38% say their public library has e-books, compared with 31% who said this in 2012. Those more likely to be aware that their library has e-books are college graduates (52% say they are aware of e-book lending), parents (44%) and those in homes where the annual income is over $75,000 (44%).
  • It is still the case, though, that almost half of Americans ages 16 and over (46%) do not know if their local library lends e-books. At least 90% of public libraries have e-book lending programs, according to the American Library Association. Those between the ages of 50 and 64 and those with lower levels of educational attainment are a bit more likely to be unaware of e-books for loan.
  • Some 16% of those who are aware their library lends e-books have downloaded an e-book from their public library – that amounts to 6% of all those ages 16 and older who have borrowed an e-book from their library.

Other Topics

  • Use of computers, the internet or Wi-Fi connections at libraries is also down slightly since 2012. Among those who have visited a public library in the past 12 months, 27% say they used a computer, internet connection or Wi-Fi there. This compares with the 31% figure recorded in November 2012.
  • Two-thirds of Americans (65%) ages 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities.
  • At the same time, the survey finds that the share of Americans who report using a library has ebbed somewhat over the past several years, though it is too early to identify a definitive national trend. Compared with Pew Research Center surveys from recent years, the current survey finds those 16 and older a bit less likely to say they have visited a library or bookmobile in-person in the past 12 months, visited a library website or used a library’s computers and internet access.
  • A trend in the other direction is that mobile access to library resources has taken on more prominence. Among those who have used a public library website, 50% accessed it in the past 12 months using a mobile device such as a tablet computer or smartphone – up from 39% in 2012.
  • 52% of all Americans 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” create programs for local businesses or entrepreneurs. Another 35% say libraries should “maybe” do this.
  • 45% say that libraries should “definitely” purchase new digital technologies such as 3-D printers to let people explore how to use them. Another 35% say libraries should “maybe” do this.
  • Overall, 22% of those ages 16 and older visited a library website or used a library mobile app in the previous 12 months. That is down somewhat from the 25% who had visited public library websites in the previous 12 months in 2012, and is a drop from the 30% who had visited a library website when we asked in September 2013. Some of the change might have resulted from a modification in the wording of our question.


People use Library Websites for a Variety of Purposes

  • Getting help from a librarian, by contrast, is something for which the library users with lower household incomes and African Americans are more likely to do. Some 52% of African Americans and 49% of those in homes with annual incomes below $30,000 have done this, compared with 42% of the general library-user population.

Quick Initials Comments by infoDOCKET Founder, Gary Price

  • We would like to see a report about why people DON’T use a public library services either in the library or via the Internet? What could the library do to get these people interested and aware? If they are aware of certain services, why do they choose not to use them? What can we do?
  • It’s one thing for the public to WANT many of the services listed but the question is ARE THEY WILLING TO PAY FOR THESE services? Do they have awareness of the cost of some of these services (ebooks, databases, etc.)?
  • Speaking of library finances, you have to wonder if use of library ebooks grows can many libraries afford to license more copies of popular titles?
  • This report (unlike previous Pew reports about public libraries) did not include anything (did we miss it?) about if the public feels informed about what their local library has to offer.
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.