At the Princeton Public Library we work hard to ensure that we offer something for everyone, even if that everyone includes groups that are often seen as less likely to use public libraries. One of the stories we often hear is that public libraries “lose” people when they go to college, “find” them again if they have kids, then “lose” them again until they retire. When people ask if anyone still uses public libraries, this is generally the “anyone” they have in mind.
Because we do not want to “lose” “anyone,” we plan classes, curate collections and create other opportunities whose appeal crosses generations, especially on our reimagined 2nd floor, which, among other amenities, features great new classes and computers in the renovated Tech Center as well as dozens of beautiful and welcoming spaces for self-directed and small group study. We also offer extensive online research and enrichment resources, including a huge collection of downloadable books, audiobooks, magazines, music, film and television, and language and other online courses. For those who want an in-person experience outside the library, we offer free passes to seventeen area museums and cultural resources.
Sure, you may be thinking, that works for me. What about those millennials? There is no way those narcissistic digital addicts are going to use the public library. As it turns out, millennials are almost certainly the most misunderstood generation, at least since the last one, who were almost certainly the most misunderstood generation since the one before. So it goes with kids these days and their so-called “culture.” Am I right?
I recently took a break from studying demographic attitudes—if it’s on the Pew Research Center website, we get to call it “studying demographic attitudes” even if “How Millennial Are You?” looks suspiciously like an online quiz1—to read Pew’s declaration that “Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries.” Answering the question I posed two sentences ago, I was not right.
In the last year, 53% of millennials (ages 18-35) have visited a public library or bookmobile and 41% of millennials have visited a library website, both figures far outpacing those reported by their cohorts in Generation X (ages 36-51), Baby Boomers (ages 52-70), and the Silent Generation (ages 71-88). Pew speculates that millennials may be attracted by the changes that public libraries have been undertaking, including the addition of computers and high-speed internet connections, literacy classes aimed at pre-K learners, meeting spaces and study rooms, and self-directed learning opportunities and classes focused on technology and electronic devices.
While this is a far less scientific method than Pew employs, when I walk around the library I see the evidence myself. The Princeton Public Library appears to appeal to everyone in our community, a status we in no way take for granted and will always work hard to sustain. If you have not been to the library lately, I encourage you to pay us a visit. You may be surprised who you find here, and perhaps even who you find inside yourself.
The photo of millennials taking a selfie is courtesy of State Farm and Harris Poll (CC BY 2.0).
1 According to Pew, this (ahem) 46-64 year old is 79% millennial and could, on a day with a bit more texting and by employing a more liberal interpretation of the verb “have,” achieve 91% millennial-ness, at least by the standards of 2010 millennials, which is when Pew published its study.