How millennials are redefining the role of public libraries

It seems that everyone is utterly fascinated by millennials these days, and for good reason. If you turn on the news, it's likely that at least one piece is going to revolve around younger Americans and their influence on everything from marketing to politics.

No generation has been so steeped in the Internet boom. Social media marketing was basically born because of this generation's constant connection with technology, peer sharing and media. Millennials are racially and ethnically diverse, have evolving associations and relationships with historic institutions (like libraries), and also, for the most part, have developed social attitudes that differ vastly from baby boomers.

So how are millennials reshaping libraries? According to a recent Pew Research Internet Project, millennials are influencing this centuries-old institution in very interesting and eye-opening ways.

The media, libraries, and millennials
The report pooled together several years of research efforts solely focused on Americans between the ages of 16 and 29. The report's findings gave a revealing glimpse of future of millennial communities and how book publishing, media and public libraries tie into the culture of this unique generation as a whole. 

For starters, even within this demographic, the ways that millennials use the library are remarkably different. One of these subsets is high schoolers, who are more likely to read for school and invest their time in the library for research. Older teens are also more likely to borrow books than purchase them. However, surprisingly enough, even though high schoolers use the library more than older generations, they are still less likely than senior citizens to say that they place a high value on public libraries.

College-aged Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 are less likely than other millennial groups to visit a public library (perhaps because many of them have ready access to an academic library on campus). But things change once millennials hit their late 20s. A significant portion of this demographic consists of parents (42 percent), who are more likely to use library services. Those in their late 20s keep up more with the news than their younger counterparts and are much more likely to state that library services are important to them and their families.

Younger adults and their connection to public libraries
For younger Americans, it seems that a library's website might have more significance than the brick and mortar location itself. The percentage of citizens between the ages of 16 to 29 who visited a public library fell from 58 percent in November 2012 to 50 percent in September 2013. However, 36 percent of this same demographic used the library's website within the previous year, which is up from 28 percent in 2012.

Like many other Americans, younger generations are familiar with the actual location of their local public library. The majority of millennials will also regard their library as a warm and welcoming place, but many are often unaware of or unfamiliar with the services that their local branch offers.

Why libraries are reaching out to millennials
Technology in libraries has come a long way in the past decade, and millennials are taking notice. Growing up in the midst of the digital revolution, these individuals are more connected and empowered through the Internet than any other generation. According to the report, younger patrons give libraries credit for embracing technology. In fact, a majority (52 percent) of younger Americans disagreed with the statement "public libraries have not done a good job keeping up with newer technologies."

This survey shows a potential tipping point for libraries. Younger Americans continue to be influenced by media, online content and an abundance of digital data entering the social sphere. Libraries could present themselves as a revamped digital resource to this technologically sophisticated and socially conscious generation.


Bethany Cummings
Associate Marketing Writer