Saturday, June 6, 2009

Use of Libraries by Users (NGC4LIB)

... wrote:
> > This is about pointing out realities
> > that's happening right in front of our faces
>
> So let's point out some other realities:
>
> 1. As Karen and others have mentioned, usage of libraries is *increasing*..
>
> And not just at public libraries. I'm looking at our stats right
> now, and for the umpteenth year in a row our usage numbers have gone
> up. If library systems -- and by implication libraries themselves --
> are "becoming more or less irellevant," then how do you explain this
...

This is not what I have been reading in the literature. Here is a recent article in the Journal of Academic Librarianship:
Charles Martell, The Absent User: Physical Use of Academic Library Collections and Services Continues to Decline 1995-2006, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 34, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 400-407, ISSN 0099-1333, DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2008.06.003.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6W50-4T4WM01-1/2/199009ea785f39556ba78d48e87f53f1)

use of the library is down except in the area of gate counts, i.e. people who are using the library physically to get a cup of coffee or perhaps surf the web. Perhaps people are browsing the physical book or periodical collection, we don't know, but in any case, they are checking out fewer books.

In the ARL Statistics at: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/arlstat07.pdf, look at pdf p 9, and we can see the trends in library services from 1991-2007. ILL has gone up enormously, Information Literacy sessions have gone up, but total circulation has gone down, and most ominously, reference transactions have gone down 51% (which matches with Martell's results). I don't believe that people find searching the catalog and a library, plus all the online materials, to be any easier than before, so the drop in reference transactions must be linked in some way to increased use of Google and the general belief that each person believes himself or herself to be an expert at searching information (as shown consistently in researches).

So maybe your library is an anomaly, and a great one at that! but still, the statistics point to downward use of libraries, their physical collections (except for ILL) and its staff. This will be especially worrying when the Google Books project finally resolves itself and people will have even less reason to come to us or even to ask for an ILL, and they will show up only for a cup of coffee or to use our machines to access the electronic resources and scans that are held elsewhere.

Again, I sincerely believe that libraries are vital to our society--I am not just worried about my own job (although I am sure I am not alone in this)--and we have to deal with fundamental changes in the information seeking patterns and information use of our patrons. I believe there is a major place for us (not the prominent place, but a major one) in this information world, but we haven't found ourselves yet. The catalog, in some form, will have to play a vital role--it's our finding tool--but I suspect the new catalog may not even look like a catalog to an earlier generation. Still, we must adapt ourselves to the world and not expect that everything and everyone will come running to us.

Jim Weinheimer

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