Patrons Less Aware of How Libraries Are Used

It’s no surprise that libraries are acutely aware of changes in how their institutions are used: Keeping accurate records helps them advocate for more resources and determine how those resources should be allocated. Patrons, however, do not always know about these shifts in usage, and that can be problematic in getting them to advocate for the library.

In a recent survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Education, librarians were asked to rate the most important need their library fulfills in their community.

  • 43% of librarians said “access to information”
  • 34% said “access to technology”
  • 10% said “research opportunities”
  • 27% said “services and programs”
  • 15% said “space to study and collaborate”

Librarian responses vary slightly from national trends reported by Pew Research Center. In their recent study, only 35% of patrons asked librarians for help with research  in the last year (down from 42% in 2015), and 27% of patrons came to the library in the last year to attend a program (up from 17% in 2015). Similarly, the number of patrons coming to the library to use technology is also on the rise. This year, 13% visited a library to use 3-D printers or other high-tech devices, which is up from 9% the year before.

While librarians keep their pulse on usage, faculty were less aware of shifting trends. When asked what the most common library requests were:

  • Faculty perceived reference requests to be twice as high as librarians indicate
  • Librarians rated requests for access to materials as 28% higher than faculty
  • Librarians ranked technology requests as twice as important as faculty
  • Librarians reported twice as much interest in programs as faculty

The differences between faculty and librarian responses reflect a disturbing lag time between patron awareness of usage shifts in how the libraries are actually used. Why is this so important? Patron expectations feed directly into their satisfaction with library services. When patrons aren’t aware of shifts in the community needs, they are less understanding and supportive of decisions the library makes.

The same report from McGraw Education indicated that librarians are 7% less likely than faculty to respond that their employers fully support the library. Librarians commented that they must continuously prove and document their value. Yet, value is in the eye of the beholder. What can librarians do?

Monitoring usage is not enough. Librarians must have a keen sense of what key stakeholders value in their library (read the full report to see how faculty ranks library services). Close the feedback loop: Keep reporting on changes in usage, and educate faculty and administrators on future trends likely to give libraries a competitive advantage, such as makerspaces. Librarians can also do a better job of actively promoting the resources and services they offer (see 10 Ways to Publicize Your Library). Above all, constant communication between libraries and the administration is crucial to making sure the library isn’t viewed as a cost center.

Want to learn more? Discover what reduces library usage in McGraw-Hill Education’s survey report, The Changing Role of Libraries.

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