What the Data Says

I’ve been looking over the raw numbers from the Harris Interactive poll that that asked 8 to 18 year olds about use of libraries virtual and face-2-face. When I heard about the survey I was curious about what the data said regarding use of libraries by teens. Looking at the raw data there’s quite a bit to take in, but here are some of the things I noticed:

  • In general teens are aware of both the school library and the public library in the community. Boys 16-18 years old were slightly less likely to know about the library. This might point to the need for librarians to spend a bit more time thinking about how to serve this age and gender group with materials and services virtual and face-2-face.
  • Teen girls are definitely more active users of the library than boys. A number of the 13 to 18 year old girls surveyed stated that they visited the library more than 21 times per month. This is compared to a smaller number of the boys, in that age group, who noted they visited the library as frequently each month. Again, this suggests that boys are an audience which librarians want to/need to target more completely. That said girls and boys both showed they visit the library (virtual or physical) on a semi-regular basis each month.
  • Borrowing books is by far the number one reason teens visit the public and school library. While they do visit the library for other reasons – including to hang-out, read, use computers, etc. borrowing materials is their main purpose for being there – by quite a bit in most cases. (This is to borrow books for both pleasure reading and homework.) Visiting the library to hang out and to attend events ranked relatively low on the scale for teens who completed the survey. What does this mean about the programs and services we provide? Do we need to rethink the services to meet the needs of those teens who run in and out simply to check out materials? Do we need to think more about virtual services? Are we only hitting a small number of teens in the community with the services we offer beyond circulation services? What does this data tell us about our physical vs. virtual spaces? Anything?
  • While some teens (8%) reported in the survey that they use a 56k modem to access the Internet, larger numbers noted that they use DSL or cable modem connections to connect. This is worth noting as it demonstrates quite a few teens have access, somewhere, to hi-speed connections. Does this information change anything in terms of the way we provide services and what we provide?
  • Teens 16 to 18 years old use the Internet more than their younger peers. Boys and girls can both be categorized as medium users (as defined by the survey as between 8 and 21 hours a week.)

Reading through the data and thinking about the numbers it is clear that teens know about their libraries – school or public – and know that they can use the library for materials to support their recreational and informational needs. It might be worth thinking a bit about the data that looks at how teens do and do not use the library beyond the going in and out to get materials.

Do we want teens to do more with the library? If so, what’s the best way to accomplish that? On-site programs? Programs outside of our buildings? Virtual services? Of course many have been asking these questions already. Now however there is data to support the need to not just ask but to do.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I think this noted book interest also means that availability of books appealing to teens needs to continue to be provided – or increased.

    Many libraries have great collections of materials for younger kids. But there is a drop-off in the amount of materials for teens (or fewer copies of popular materials available on-hand), which risks having the library, slowly but surely, being seen in the eye of the young individual, as less of a great place to visit, compared to when they were younger.

    More teens can go online, high-speed, at home, so I can certainly see that books could continue to be the main interest in physically coming to library.

  2. Tony Greiner [Visitor]

    I think what is interesting about this survey is that it shows that libraries have been successful in reaching teens. 80% visit a library at least once a year, and about 35% do so monthly. Those are great numbers!

    And programs are nice, but don’t ignore the #1 reason given for not visiting more: lack of interesting things to borrow. Get those teen-level books, graphic novels, music CDs and such out there and available, and in bigger variety and bigger numbers. This is a good thing- the core purpose of a library remains important to our young users.

  3. Wyatt Ditzler [Visitor]

    These are interesting results. Where did the high-speed Internet connection data come from? I cannot find it on the linked Harris Interactive Poll. If anyone has any further information or where to get the complete results could they e-mail me with the information?

    The results do show promise for our libraries.

  4. During Harry Potter Release Week, a Lynn Neary story on NPRs Morning Edition on July 19, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12091984) quoted a Scholastic publishers study that found that many kids dont read more because they have such a hard time choosing that next interesting book. The story was very much bookstore oriented, with no mention of libraries, but combined with the Harris poll, it reminds us to remember the importance of one of our greatest gifts: showing kids and teens what to read next and then how to make their own good book choices.

  5. Dawn McMillan [Visitor]

    I noticed that 35% of those polled are under 12 years old. That probably skewed some of the numbers since 8-11 year olds are most likely going to be working with a Children’s Librarian verse a Teen Librarian.

    I am a bit leery of taking these results to heart on such topic as: Base: Have visited Public library or both in the past year-For events (For example a poetry slam, open mic night, book club, writers’ workshop, Teen Advisory Group meeting, computer workshop, arts & crafts workshop) I know that 8-11 year old in my library are not old enough to attend these types of events.

Comments are closed