National Research and the Local Experience

National level research can be an interesting way to consider local experience. It can help raise your awareness as you consider the questions you want and need to ask when looking outside of the library at your community. For example, a couple of weeks ago, another interesting study was released by Pew Research called Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell. It describes the preferences of younger Americans (ages 16-29) when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. How can a local library learn from and use this national level data?

Finding Data

Pew research related to libraries is a gold mine of data about libraries and library users. In addition to data, the research also include qualitative sources with quotes and stories to help us better understand the data identified by the larger trends unconvered in the research. The reports can help all of us learn about library patrons’ needs and expectations in this  time of technology change (increased use of e-books, greater mobile connectivity, expanding digital collections, etc.).

The Pew research pulls from sources around the country and provides a national picture. There are also many ways that you can gather data that is focused on your particular service area, be it a town, city or county. Finding a fact-based picture of your community can help you better understand your community and plan for the future.

This article from Bill Young with the Oklahoma Department of Libraries points to many resources for finding local data.

Learning More

It is likely that your analysis of national level research and your review of data for your local community will leave you with a lot of questions. What does this mean for my community? What does this mean for library services?

For example, if you read the recent Pew Research called Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations , here's an interesting chart you would have encountered:

After reading this, should a library immediately order a kiosk for library materials and set to work developing a GPS app to help users locate materials? Those are obviously things that, on a national level, younger Americans feel they would like to use. The way we can use this data most effectively, I think, is to weigh it against local experience and then decide what you want and need to know about your community.

If you have analyzed your usage data and your community demographics and have determined that usage by 16-29 year olds is low in your community and increasing usage is a priority, then what else do you need to know? You could create a survey, conduct a focus group, or interview individuals and ask some of the same questions asked by Pew. You could also look at the things younger Americans say they would like at the library and determine if those are things you are already offering, but that you might need to do some work to increase awareness by marketing them in a different way.

As you consider the questions, I encourage you not only to look at the needs, problems, and interests of community members, but also to look at assets. Consider potential partnerships. Ask people not only how the library could serve them, but also ask if they are interested in opportunities to contribute their time and talents.

In this way, national research can be the spark that ignites the local resources necesary to make changes in our libraries and communities.