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Parents: Libraries are important

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The vast majority of parents of minor children — children younger than 18 — feel libraries are very important for their children.

Fully 94 percent of parents say libraries are important for their children and 79 percent describe libraries as “very important.” That is especially true of parents of young children (those under 6): 84 percent of them say libraries are “very important.”

More parents in libraries

That attachment to libraries carries over into parents’ own higher-than-average use of a wide range of library services. Compared with other adults who don’t have minor children at home, parents are more likely to have library cards, visit the library, use the library website, and use mobile devices to connect to the library. Indeed, 30 percent of parents say their patronage of libraries has increased in the past five years and the primary reason they cite for the increase is the presence of a child in their family.

Reading with children

The ties between parents and libraries start with the importance parents attach to the role of reading in their children’s lives. Half of parents of children under age 12 read to their child every day and an additional 26 percent do so a few times a week. Those with children under age 6 are especially keen on daily reading with their child: 58 percent of these parents read with their child every day and another 26 percent read multiple times a week with their children.

The importance parents assign to reading and access to knowledge shapes their enthusiasm for libraries and their programs:

• 84 percent of these parents who say libraries are important say a major reason they want their children to have access to libraries is that libraries help inculcate their children’s love of reading and books;

• 81 percent say a major reason libraries are important is that libraries provide their children with information and resources not available at home;

• 71 percent also say a major reason libraries are important is that libraries are a safe place for children; and

• Almost every parent (97 percent) says it is important for libraries to offer programs and classes for children and teens.

Survey methods

These are some of the key findings from a survey of 2,252 Americans ages 16 and above between Oct. 15 and Nov. 10, 2012, by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The surveys were administered — half on landline phones and half on cellphones — and conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the full survey is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. The survey includes 584 interviews with parents of children under 18 years of age. The margin of error for the sample of parents is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

“From the minute we started talking to library patrons in this research, it was apparent that parents are a special cohort because of their affection for libraries, their deep sense that libraries matter to their children, and their own use of libraries,” noted Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. “They do more and they are eager for more library services of every kind — ranging from traditional stuff like books in stacks and comfortable reading spaces to high-tech kiosks and more e-books and mobile apps that would allow them to access library materials while they are on the go.”

Moms big on reading

More than fathers, mothers in many respects are attached to their libraries, feel they are important for their children and their communities, and eager to see libraries expand and add new tech-related services.

Reading habits: Mothers are more likely than fathers to read to their children every day (55 percent vs. 45 percent).

Overall, mothers read books somewhat more often than fathers. In the past 12 months, mothers read an average of 14 books (mean), compared with 10 for fathers. Book-reading mothers are more likely than fathers to have read a printed book in the past year (90 percent vs. 82 percent).

Family use of library services and activities: Mothers are more likely than fathers to report that their children have visited the library in the past year (74 percent vs. 64 percent).

When it comes to parents’ use of libraries, mothers are notably more engaged than fathers. They are more likely than fathers to have a library card, to have visited a library in the last 12 months, to have visited a library website in the past year, and to have visited a library website via mobile device.

Among library users, mothers visit more frequently than fathers: 21 percent of library-using mothers visit the library weekly, compared with 10 percent of library-using fathers who visit that frequently.

Importance of libraries: Mothers are more likely than fathers to say libraries are important to their communities (94 percent vs. 87 percent). And they are more likely than fathers to say libraries are important to them and their families (87 percent vs. 80 percent).

When it comes to their own children, mothers are more likely than fathers to say a major reason why libraries are important is because libraries help children develop a love of reading and books (90 percent vs. 77 percent). Mothers also are more likely to believe libraries offer their children access to information and resources they can’t get at home or school (86 percent vs. 75 percent).

Low income and libraries

Lower income parents are more likely to view library services as very important.

When it comes to newer services that libraries might create, parents living in households earning less than $50,000 are more likely than parents in higher income households to say they would be “very likely” to take advantage of:

• classes on how to download library e-books (44 percent vs. 29 percent);

• e-readers already loaded with library content (40 percent vs. 22 percent);

• digital media lab (40 percent vs. 28 percent); and

• classes on how to use e-readers (34 percent vs. 16 percent).

In addition, parents in lower-income households are more likely to say it is important for libraries to offer librarians to help people, free access to computers and the internet, quiet study spaces, research resources, jobs and career materials, free events and activities, and free meeting spaces for the community.

Technology and libraries

“Parents’ ties to libraries are all the more striking because parents are more likely than other adults to have computers, Internet access, smartphones, and tablet computers,” noted Kathryn Zickuhr, research analyst at the Pew Internet Project. “The presence of this technology in their lives might make them less reliant on libraries because they have access to information and media through other convenient platforms. But the opposite is the case — the more technology they have, the more they’re likely to take advantage of library services.”

Who’s involved

This report is part of a broader effort by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, exploring the role libraries play in people’s lives and in their communities. (Research underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

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