Study shows young people still value libraries

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:32 PM

Cheri Carlson

Vasant Iyer walked out of the Thousand Oaks, Calif., library this month balancing a pile of books in his arms.

The 17-year-old, a recent Westlake High School graduate, likes to read print books. He goes to the library rather than downloading them online. And he’s not alone.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center looked at younger Americans’ library habits and showed 16- to 29-year-olds are just as likely as older adults to go to the library.

They use the technology, but they also browse the shelves and borrow print books as much as older people do, the study shows. Three-fourths have read at least one print book in the past year -- a higher percentage than those over 30.

‘‘I think it’s really interesting that younger Americans, those under age 30, are strong supporters of traditional library services, though they are also big technology users,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst with the Pew Research Center, which is working on a multiyear study of public libraries.

The latest results didn’t come as a big surprise to local library officials, who say they serve a variety of age groups.

‘‘We’re not just a book warehouse that a lot of people may have thought of years ago,” said Heather Cousin, library director at the Simi Valley Library. “We really are community centers.”

Simi Valley’s library reopened last week after undergoing renovations that included giving teens their own space and adding study areas where students can work in small groups, Cousin said. That’s a growing need as more teachers have shifted to group projects.

In the study, most younger Americans said it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians and books for borrowing.

Zickuhr found it particularly interesting that younger patrons are more likely than older ones to use the library as a physical space -- a place to go where they can sit and study, read or use computers and the Internet.

For Iyer, the library gives him something else to do this summer as he waits to head to college in the fall. He borrowed some classics for his brother, plus J.K. Rowling’s new book and one with nature writings.

He has an e-reader but said he likes print books. “There’s something about pages that just feels good for reading,” he said. Plus, “they are just so much more available in print, at least for free through the library system.”

Libraries also make good meeting places, and during high school, students head there for study groups, Iyer said. It gives them room to work and access to books to look things up.

‘‘They are definitely filling up the study rooms that we have,” said Gladstone Bucknor, an adult services librarian in Camarillo, Calif.

Students come in to work on group projects and use the Camarillo study areas. Some stay to browse the shelves.

‘‘It’s almost like a central meeting space for all these students, because they’re here pretty regularly,” he said.

With most schools out for summer, the Camarillo library was busy last Wednesday. There were a lot of kids, parents with young children, some older people and some in the 16-29 age range.

Rosalyn Foreman, 25, of Camarillo walked out with her arms full of DVDs to watch and a pile of books, including a study guide for an exam and books for a class she’s teaching.

Foreman doesn’t consider herself a frequent library-goer. But from the DVD rentals to free magazines, she said, the library saves her money.

‘‘We do try to have materials for people at every walk of life,” said Chris Hendel, library division manager at the Thousand Oaks Library. It also tries to reach people in new ways, from social media pages to email alerts.

Libraries stay relevant because they adapt and serve a lot of purposes, from helping someone prepare for a job interview to giving them extensive research resources, Bucknor said.

‘‘As times change, the role of libraries -- what people think the role of libraries is -- always changes,” he said. “But they’re always sort of the center of the community.”

For more information on the study, go to

(Reach Ventura County Star reporter Cheri Carlson at Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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