A man in a library is pictured.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Millennials, more than any other generation, are likely to visit and trust their local lending institutions.

The library enjoys a treasured place in American culture. In post-Revolutionary War-era America, public libraries provided information to low- and middle-class Americans who lacked access to literary salons or private book clubs. In the 20th century, libraries opened up new career opportunities for women who did not want to be teachers. Today, college tours traditionally show off magnificent lending institutions to lure starry-eyed prospective students (and that scene of Belle swooning over three floors of stacks in Disney's 1991 Beauty and the Beast continues to capture the hearts of young bookworms).

Libraries nevertheless have, in the past few years, been experiencing short-term declines in attendance. Between 2009 and 2013, library attendance fell 8.2 percent. This drop may be due to the fact that, at the height of the Great Recession, many came to the library to search for jobs, so as conditions improved, that foot traffic decreased. Journalists have also noted that declining revenues primarily due to decreased local government funding and technological change have also played a role. But a new reportfrom Pew suggests that libraries have become even more important information hubs for Americans—especially young ones—in the era of "fake news."

In the report, released Wednesday, Pew finds that the majority of American adults—61 percent—say their decision-making would be improved at least somewhat "if they got training on how to find trustworthy information online." In this bewildering world of real and fake news, a clear majority—78 percent—believe that the library is still providing them with information that is "trustworthy and reliable." It's not just older generations who prefer this more traditional resource: Millennials are more likely to trust the library than all previous generations, including Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation.

(Pew Research Center)

Millennials are big fans of their local lending institutions in other ways as well. Eighty-five percent believe the library helps them "learn new things," according to Pew, and 63 percent agree that it helps them "get information that helps them with decisions they have to make"—both higher proportions than any other generation measured. This research aligns with findings from Pew released earlier in the summer: In June, the research center found that Millennials were the most likely generation in America to have visited a library and used a library website in the past few months. Clearly, young adults' constant access to social network news feeds and Amazon hasn't diminished the charm of browsing through the stacks to find the right call number.

Charts showing library statistics from Pew Research Center
(Pew Research Center)

A majority of Americans studied say that libraries help them "grow as people" (65 percent) while a minority of Americans agree that libraries help them focus on the most important elements in their lives (49 percent), deal with a busy world (43 percent), and deal with a world where it's hard to get ahead (38 percent). That last figure seems to suggest that most contemporary American library-goers aren't just visiting the library for the quiet place to chill, but for specific information needs.

Overall, people of color, those with less than a high school diploma, and women were more interested in digital training than their white counterparts. Those interested in digital training overlapped with those who believe libraries are important resources: Women, Hispanic Americans, and those with less than a high school degree all reported more trust in and personal attachment to libraries.

The report supports previous findings that libraries are maintaining an important—and evolving—role in their communities in the digital age. The Institute of Museum and Library Services foundthat, despite short-term drops, by 2013 libraries had experienced a 17.6 percent increase in attendance since the previous decade. A 2013 study from Pew found that 90 percent of Americans still say that the closing of a library would have an "impact" on their local community, with 63 percent saying it would be "major."

Pew's latest report shows that Americans—and especially young adults—are perhaps increasingly valuing their local lending institutions as "fake news" dominates the news cycle. Though Americans' thoughts on where they're getting fake news from are split along partisan lines, a majority are concerned that it is fostering confusion about basic facts. Digital reading material may indeed have reduced foot traffic to libraries in recent years—it may also be prompting more people to stop by now, and in the near future.

This story originally appeared as “In the ‘Fake News’ Era, Americans Increasingly Value Libraries” on Pacific Standard, an editorial partner site. Subscribe to the magazine in print and follow Pacific Standard on Twitter to support journalism in the public interest.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of police officers sealing off trash bins prior to the Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo in 2015.
    Life

    Carefully, Japan Reconsiders the Trash Can

    The near-absence of public garbage bins in cities like Tokyo is both a security measure and a reflection of a cultural aversion to littering.

  2. An illustration of the Memorial Day flood in Ellicott City, Maryland.
    Environment

    In a Town Shaped by Water, the River Is Winning

    Storms supercharged by climate change pose a dire threat to river towns. After two catastrophic floods, tiny Ellicott City faces a critical decision: Rebuild, or retreat?

  3. Cars sit in a crosswalk.
    Transportation

    What if More People Could Issue Parking Tickets?

    Washington, D.C., considers training a group of residents to give tickets for some parking violations. Would it make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists?

  4. Environment

    A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day

    This year-long journey across the U.S. keeps you at consistent high temperatures.

  5. A line of stores in Westport, Connecticut
    Equity

    Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing

    In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Invisible walls created by local zoning boards and the state government block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.