Americans use multiple resources when searching for specific answers. The traditional sources, libraries and librarians, are still common alternatives, even with the ubiquitous availability of internet access.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project surveyed Americans’ use of a variety of information sources that help them seek answers to common problems that could in some way be related to government agencies and programs. The survey evaluated how Americans seek information on
- dealing with a serious illness or health concern
- making a decision about school enrollment
- financing school
- upgrading work skill
- dealing with a tax matter
- changing a job or starting a business
- getting information about major programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
The survey’s major findings are
- The internet is a go-to source
- Searchers usually end up satisfied
- Libraries meet special needs
- Digital divides matter
- Government documents should be created and delivered in all shapes and sizes
- E-government is not an option, it’s a necessity
Like most Americans, I grew up using public libraries. My parents were often willing to drive me to the major public library in my hometown. When I was old enough to ride my bicycle more than just a few miles from home, I started spending time at the local college libraries. This respect for and love of library resources continues in me today. If it were not for the inclement weather, I would be spending this lazy Sunday afternoon at the public library.
The Pew report introduces the role of libraries, “For generations, public libraries have played a central role in providing a vast range of information to Americans. From the stacks of non-fiction books, to racks of newspapers and magazines, to shelves of reference materials and government documents, libraries have been the place to go to find answers to questions.”
Over the last decade and a half, the internet has offered a challenge to libraries’ dominance of reference resources. Most popular magazines publish the same content material in digital format as is published in the print format. Dictionaries and encyclopedias, including those with which most Americans are familiar, are available for free or a nominal annual fee on the internet. Now, with the popularization of e-book readers, such as those from Sony and Amazon.com, books can be easily delivered in digital format, no longer requiring avid readers to physically travel to the library. In fact, my local public library offers a wide selection of digital materials through its internet portal, including streaming music, music downloads, and books, which may be checked out for three weeks, just like a printed book.
However, as the Pew report identifies, this flexibility of accessing published data is only available to those with broadband internet access. Dial-up users are more restricted in accessing online resources, and are more likely to use their physical library resources for research.
Pew Internet & American Life Project report: Information Searches that Solve Problems.