In early April the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report about about ebook usage in the United States.

Although libraries were mentioned/discussed throughout this report, the primary focus of the report was not libraries.

Today, Pew Internet is out with a NEW report that focuses solely on library patron (public library patrons to be specific) usage of ebooks and some related issues. Kudos to Pew for the broad picture since libraries are about more than ebooks.

The report runs 80 pages.

Direct to Full Text Report: Libraries, patrons, and e-books

What follows are some noteworthy findings from the report along with some quick reactions/comments. There is a lot more to say about the 80 page report and we hope to do some in the coming weeks and months.

I’ve asked Matt Weaver, Web Librarian at the Westlake Porter Public Library in Westlake, Ohio to join me in sharing some thoughts about the findings. Matt deals with ebooks and patrons daily. Matt recently shared some views about ebooks in this guest post.

One final note before we get started. A percentage of the research that Pew shares in this report was first published in the February 2012 report we mentioned a moment ago. At that time we broke out a lot of the library numbers and shared several comments.

So, instead of repeating all of what we had to say in April, we invite you to take a look at our post from April 4, 2012.

Top-Line Numbers

Some 12% of Americans ages 16 and older who read e-books say they have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year.

But a majority of Americans do not know that this service is provided by their local library.

But most in the broader public, not just e-book readers, are generally not aware they can borrow e- books from libraries. We asked all those ages 16 and older if they know whether they can borrow e- books from their library and 62% said they did not know if their library offered that service. Some 22% say they know that their library does lend out e-books, and 14% say they know their library does not lend out e-books.

  •  58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 55% of all those who say the library is ‘very important’ to them say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  •  47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.

Preview 3 Pew Internet Releases New Report: Libraries, Patrons, and E books

Preview 4 Pew Internet Releases New Report: Libraries, Patrons, and E books
Comment: GP (A Comment by Gary Price)

For many years I’ve said that the bottom line is that people (including library users) can’t use something they don’t know about. This is the case for any product or service. It’s no different here.

The Pew study makes this fact very clear.

While many might spin this report differently in the sense that it should be great to know that 12% use library user take advantage of library ebooks, I find the number very sad especially after all of the attention library ebooks have received in the past couple of years (especially since Kindle access became available via OverDrive).

We need to do better not only promoting ebooks but all library services.

It makes me wonder about the knowledge patrons have about library services including remote access to newspaper and periodical databases, streaming music, text reference, etc.

Comment: MW (A Comment by Matt Weaver)

At WPPL (Westlake Porter Public Library), we ran a survey and 30% of the people responding to a question about ebooks/Overdrive chose ‘What’s Overdrive?’ It’s worth mentioning that OverDrive is also located not very far from where some of our users live/work.

How do these numbers regarding patrons lack of awareness of the availability of ebooks via the library jive with libraries’ feeling that ereaders/ebooks have overwhelmed them? Might this account for under-marketing? I know many library staff have felt swamped by requests for help with ereaders and ebooks. To find out that still, so many patrons don’t know we offer ebooks, may come as a shock.


Preview 2 Pew Internet Releases New Report: Libraries, Patrons, and E books

E-book borrowers appreciate the selection of e-books at their local library, but they often encounter wait lists, unavailable titles, or incompatible file formats.

Comment: MW

This shows the impact of DRM on library users, and their ignorance of it.

Also, although we don’t have a ereader lending at our library there is a strong interest in starting one if the books patrons want are available on the device. This set-up is not typically how ereader lending programs work. Often the device is loaned for experimentation, or with books preloaded determined by the library. Perhaps it’s time for ‘patron driven acquisition’ to become a part of public library world.

We have seen our access to ebook and audiobook content drastically reduced in recent months, both from publishers like Penguin and Brilliance Audio which pulled out of libraries altogether, and other changes that force libraries to spend more per title (Harper Collins’ expiring ebooks, and Random House’s exorbitant price increases. In these areas, customer satisfaction will not improve: Penguin isn’t coming back to Overdrive but working on a pilot project with 3M. If Penguin permanently ends up with 3M not many libraries will be able to seriously consider adding a second ebook/audiobook vendor.

Comment: GP

It’s interesting to note that about the just about the same number of people had problems not being able to read a book because it was unavailable (as an ebook) as did not being able to access because all available copies were checked out. More on this later but services like the Kindle Lending Library and Safari don’t have waiting lists. All books available at all times.

Borrowing vs. Purchase

[From the December Pew Report]

We also asked book readers about their general preferences when it came to getting books. Fully 55% of the e-book readers who also had library cards said they preferred to buy their e-books and 36% said they preferred to borrow them from any source—friends or libraries. Some 46% of library card holders said they prefer to purchase print books they want to read and 45% said they preferred to borrow print books.

Many respondents in our online panel said they liked to purchase books they might want to re-read or share with others, especially spiritual and self-help books. Many also preferred to purchase books for reading to children ڪalthough others cited their childrenڇs voracious reading appetites as the reason for regular library trips). Graphics-heavy books, reference books, and books that are part of a series were also frequently mentioned as best for purchasing. At least one student mentioned a preference for purchasing used books, ڊso I can highlight and mark pages at will’

Comment MW

It’s interesting that many items mentioned above are not popular content. Kid’s books and series, notwithstanding.

Search and Discovery

Preview 5 Pew Internet Releases New Report: Libraries, Patrons, and E booksComment: MW

This should not be surprising since: stats indicate more there are more patrons who are unaware that their library offers ebooks than those who know; and because so much content (including The Hunger Games, which is referred to in the response of one survey participant) is not available in ebook form.

More Selected Findings, More Comments

Library holdings are changing. A number of librarians report that some funds for purchasing printed books have been shifted to e-book purchases.

Comment: GP

Hmm. What does this mean for the long term and building permanent collections? Are we in pay now and really pay later situation? Do permanent collections still matter in today’s world?

Even e-book borrowers take their cues from commercial sources. Some 71% of e-book borrowers say they get book recommendations from online bookstores and websites; 39% say they get recommendations from the staff at bookstores they visit; and 42% say they get recommendations from librarians.

Comment: GP

Services like NetGalley can help make the entire library staff a more informed resource for patron recommendations and related reading. These are two areas where libraries can and should flourish especially in specific areas. Libraries in a consortium setting can and should also work together.

Comment: MW

Amazon is positioned brilliantly when it comes to recommendations.

As reader behavior has them turn to that site first for recommendations, it has gleaned who knows how much, and what, data via Overdrive on library readers, which as stated in this report on pg 8: ‘Library card holders also report they read more books than non-holders.’

Libraries have no real presence in online recommendations. Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc. dominate. We are on par with bookstores as sources for recommendations among library card holders, and there are fewer and fewer bookstores around.

Some 56% of those ages 16 and older said that they had used a public library at least once in the past year for one of the activities.

Comment: GP

This 56% number is found on page 32 of the report where an interesting list is provided describing how people used the public library. What we would like to know is if ‘used a public library’ means both remotely and in the library building?

Whatever the case, you have to wonder how many people don’t use library/librarians) because they don’t know what’s available either in the building or 24x7x365 from any Internet connected computer. Finally, does ‘research help from a librarian’ include things like search training classes or online training webinars, web pages, etc. without having a specific research need?

The report does say:

It is important to note that we asked no questions about technology use at libraries because that was outside the scope of this research. Other studies by Pew Internet and others has documented that library patrons are often eager users of computers and internet connections at local libraries.

Among those who had listened to an audiobook in the year prior to the survey, 38% used a public library to borrow audiobooks. This works out to 4% of all those 16 and older. About half of these audiobook borrowers had done so five or fewer times.

Among those 16 and older who regularly read magazines or journals, three in ten (30%) accessed magazines or journals at a public library. One percent did this with a tablet or e- reader.

Comment: GP

Where do remotely accessible databases fit in? Note the use of the phrase ‘at a public library.’

A majority of the librarians who responded to our query said they are excited about the role that e-books have played in their institutions and the way that e- books have added to patrons’ lives. At the same time, many report that much more of their time is devoted to providing ‘tech support’ for patrons—both in their hardware needs and mastering software and the web—and away from traditional reference services. Librarians often are anxious about the new set of demands on them to learn about the operations of new gadgets, to master every new web application, and to de-bug every glitch on a digital device. A notable portion of librarians report they are self-taught techies. Staff training programs often help, but librarians report wide variance in the quality of some training efforts.

Comment: MW

I see this as a huge opportunity for libraries. Where else can people turn? Tech assistance at the retailers who sell these devices is often poor. I say that ereaders ‘don’t represent tech support problems, but literacy problems. Well, literacy AND tech support problems.’

Comment: GP

I agree with Matt. The booming world of mobile access, devices, apps, etc. also provides new and growing opportunities for libraries to provide quality answers and referrals and also remain relevant/useful to their community. Libraries should be as much about apps, web tools, etc. as they are about all other types of resources.

Preview Pew Internet Releases New Report: Libraries, Patrons, and E booksComment: GP

Wow! Is the idea of providing research assistance for the masses an old one? I often wonder how much time is wasted due to poor research skills and where a quick interaction (in person, phone, chat, text) would not only help the user but also help them with future research. These days everyone can be a searcher and finder. However, finding the best and most accurate info possible in a timely manner is much different.

Many patrons mentioned wanting more titles and more copies available to decrease wait lists for popular books, as well as longer lending periods for the e-books they did check out. Some wanted more input into the selection process for new titles, while others wanted to help out directly. ‘It would be great if people could donate specific e-books to the library,’ wrote one. ‘I have a couple favorites that I would love to see added to the collection.’

Some patrons also disliked having to go through external sites such as OverDrive and Amazon. Most cited problems with the inefficiency of the process. Others raised privacy-related reasons. They also mentioned wanting more ways to discover content, especially improved search and browsing of e-book catalogs, including mobile browsing. (Some 15% of library websites are optimized for mobile devices, according to the ALA’s 2011-2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, while 7% of libraries have developed smartphone apps for access to library services.53)

Many patrons also said that they would like to have more staff members available to answer questions about e-books, similar to Apple’s ‘Genius Bar.’ Overall, however, the patrons in our focus groups were not frustrated at the libraries themselves for issues related to licensing or lack of funds. ‘They’re doing all they can,’ said one

Many people who purchase or receive e-book readers as gifts have never turned them on before coming to the library to check out e-booksڄ; Getting these patrons up to speed can be overwhelming.

Comment: MW

Personally, I have conducted a lot of training sessions, whether in classroom format, or in one-on-one sessions. I trained several staff members to handle these one-on-one sessions and to serve as experts on both specific devices and Overdrive processes in general for their respective departments. At my library, most of the people who have come for help with their device received it as a gift, often more than a year before bringing it to the library for a class. So, willingness to take classes or engage in these technologies is not the only indicator: the ereader booms of the past two holiday seasons forced many readers to try new technologies (so many people would say they would feel guilty if they told their child to take the device back). Literally, libraries have saved ereaders from junk drawers and electronics-recycling programs.

What About Reader Privacy?

Comment: GP

The word privacy is mentioned only twice in the entire report. I hope future reports from Pew have more on this topic because it’s an important or it least it should be.

The Kindle/OverDrive privacy issue that we first discussed last September is mentioned in one sentence in the report but that’s about it.

I would be very interested to learn not only what library patrons think about reader privacy as it relates to ebooks but also if they know and understand that some of the privacy that they’ve come to expect and appreciate from libraries (and we should be proud of) might not be the same as when the borrow a print book from the library.

Now What

Comment: GP

There is a lot more work to be done (understatement). In fact, it might be time to scrap what we’ve been doing as a profession and begin from scratch when it comes to marketing, promotion, selling all services. Of course, some libraries do some impressive work and we should all learn from them.

Also, if there is one thing Google and other tech companies (Twitter to name one) have taught us is that with a good plan and getting to the right people at the right time with a message that means something to them you can go from zero to supersonic in a relatively short period of time. Social media can be useful but what works best is TALKING to people (one-on-one) about what’s available and demonstrating a resource or two if time allows. We need to do more talking. All librarians and members of the community need to participate. To the public we all represent each other. Lines drawn around the type of library you work in do not and should not come into play.

Also, I think vendors and publishers can do better. For example, I’ve suggested about some form of co-op advertising where vendors would set aside x amount of dollars for the local library to spend on marketing/advertising to their local community.  In fact, vendors and libraries could work together on creating tools, strategies, etc.

This is all easier said than done but we need to begin, now!

As each day goes by the challenges become larger.  In fact, I’ve wondering about the future if/when begins expanding the Kindle Owners Lending Library to offer more books beyond the one book per month they currently provide to Kindle owners who subscribe to the Amazon Prime service. Here’s a recent post where I expand on this scenario.

Marketing and selling–yes selling –what’s available (both specifics and a concept) needs to become even more of a concern than it already is.

There are plenty of issues with access to ebooks that need to be resolved BUT at the same time I hope some of the attention (even a small percentage of it) that’s being given to these issues is redirected towards marketing, promotion, and selling.

I also believe some marketing must be focused not on the library (as a place or resource) but on the skills, knowledge, and adaptability of librarians as a group and individually.

For me the saddest part of all of this is that many potential users would likely be happy and excited to learn about what there local library offers them in terms of ebooks and the MANY other services but as today’s Pew’s numbers illustrate, we’re not reaching them like we should be.

I realize that the public library might not be a resource or tool for all members of a community but I have to think more would be interested if they knew what was available, how these resources can be accessed, and how to make the most efficient use of them.

Direct to Full Text Report: Libraries, patrons, and e-books

See Also: Harry Potter Titles Coming to Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and What This Should Mean For Libraries

(Via LJ INFOdocket.)


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail