This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Internet threat to libraries analyzed

UB study to revisit question of whether Internet use reduces public use of libraries

Published: January 6, 2005

Contributing Editor

A major national study conducted by the School of Informatics and the Urban Libraries Council found five years ago that increased Internet use in the U.S. had not produced a reduction in the public use of libraries.

The study presented a new consumer model of the U.S. adult market for library and Internet services, one that consisted of "information seekers" who used both resources, but in different ways.

With Internet use continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, the UB researchers now are poised to undertake a much larger national study to see what, if any, changes have taken place over the past five years.

Data for the new study will come from a national random digit-dialing survey of 3,000 respondents throughout the U.S., plus an in-house questionnaire survey of 10,000 users of libraries in five urban library systems. The original study, "The Impact of Internet Use on Public Library Use," came from a national random-sample telephone survey of 3,097 English- and Spanish-speaking adults.

In that study, the researchers found that the use of libraries and the Internet appeared to be complementary.

The new study will be funded by a $266,881 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS), which also funded the first study. George D'Elia, professor in the Department of Information and Library Studies in the UB School of Informatics and principal investigator on the first study, also will lead the new study. He will work with Melanie Kimball and Christopher Brown-Syed, assistant professors of information and library studies.

The first study, which received the 2003 Jesse H. Shera Award for Distinguished Public Research from the American Library Association's Library Research Round Table, was published in 2002 in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

"At that time, we found that 55 percent of the library users surveyed had Internet access at home," D'Elia says, "so it was clear that use of the two information sources was not an either-or proposition. Internet users also use the library rather extensively.

"We expect to get the same results this time...that Internet use does not reduce library use. We'll see if there is a percentage change in any of the areas studied."

Why is the use of information sources not a zero-sum game?

D'Elia says it's because users of libraries and the Internet are "information seekers," a group that tends to be younger, better educated and have higher household incomes than those who do not use libraries or the Internet.

"They are people who use many sources of information, including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the Internet, libraries," he says. "In the previous study, we found that while they tended to use the Internet to get news, health information, recipes and other 'short-term' material in a brief format, they used the library for in-depth research and extensive reading.

"Subjects cited the ease and low cost of library use, the accuracy of information found there, the helpfulness of librarians and the availability of paper copy," D'Elia says. "They gave the Internet high marks, on the other hand, for ease of getting to the information online, hours of access, range of resources, the fact that so much information is up-to-date, their enjoyment of browsing and the opportunity it provides users to work alone, without the distractions found in libraries."

The first research team consisted of D'Elia; Joseph Woefel, UB professor of communication; Corinne Jorgenson, former professor of information and library studies in the UB School of Informatics; and Eleanor Jo Rodger, immediate past president of the Urban Libraries Council, the leading research and education organization serving public libraries.

They reported that 75.2 percent of Internet users also used the library, 60.3 percent of library users also used the Internet, 40 percent of the survey population used both the library and the Internet, and the use of the library and the Internet were inversely related to age. Library users were significantly younger than library nonusers, and Internet users were significantly younger than Internet nonusers, according to the study.

They also found that library users and Internet users were better educated than nonusers; both library and Internet users reported higher household incomes than nonusers; the percentage of females who reported using the library was higher than the percentage of males who reported using the library, but the percentage of males who reported using the Internet was higher than the percentage of females who reported using the Internet.

They found no evidence among respondents who used both the library and the Internet that Internet use was changing the reasons why people used the library or the frequency of their library use, but that respondents used each information source for different reasons.