Pew report on Information Searches that Solve Problems

Information searches that solve problems:

Implications for libraries


The Pew report on Information Searches that Solve Problems (December 30, 2007) has serious implications for public libraries –in general- and also for library services for Latin@s.


The report is based on a national survey looking at ‘how people use a variety of information sources to help them address some common problems that could be related in some way to government agencies and programs.’

The Pew Internet & American Life Project and the University of Illinois partnered with the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, Princeton Survey Research Associates International, and the Library Research Center, Graduate School for Library and Information Science, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

The survey was administered to 2,796 American adults and it includes an over sample of 733 to cover people with low-access to the Internet or no access at all.

The respondents were asked if dealt with any of these problems in the past two years:


    • Dealt with a serious illness or other health condition, either yourself or someone else close to you
    • Made a decision about schooling, paying for education, or getting training for yourself or for a child
    • Needed information about property taxes or income taxes
    • Changed jobs, retired, or started your own business
    • Needed information about Medicare/Medicaid/food stamps
    • Needed information about Social Security/military benefits
    • Wanted information about voter registration or a government action, program or policy
    • Looked for help from local govt. with a problem like traffic or schools
    • Involved in a criminal matter, a lawsuit, or other legal action
    • Became a citizen/helped someone with immigration


While I encourage everyone to study the report, below I share some of the highlights:

  • Young Adults or Gen X are the largest group using libraries.

  • More people turn to the internet than any other source of information.

  • Americans want and expect information about government programs to be available on the Internet.


58% of those who had recently experienced one of those problems said they used the internet (at home, work, public library or some other place) to get help; 53% turned to professionals; 45% turned to friends and family; 36% consulted newspapers and magazines; 34% contacted a government office/agency directly; 16% consulted television/radio, and only 13% went to the public library.


Highlights about those using public libraries: Among minority groups, African Americans comprise the largest group of users (26%), followed by Latinos (22%).

Among generations, Gen Y (18-30 yrs) comprise the largest group of users (21%), followed by After work (72 years and older) with 15%.


Regarding privacy and confidentiality concerns: 

About one in five of those who have dealt with some specific problem (19%) said that such a fear of disclosure of personal information played at least some role in deciding how they would search for information or help.

26% of those who used the Internet to address a recent problem admitted concern that doing so might reveal private or sensitive information about themselves to others- such as someone they know or a private company or a government agency; 23% of those who used the library expressed the same concern.


These results are very useful but more research is needed to know why non-users are not visiting libraries?



One thought on “Pew report on Information Searches that Solve Problems”

  1. I have read the study, and have seen it quoted here as well as in the Chicago Tribune. To be clear, the orginal PEW report states that the 18-30 group has the highest propensity to use a public library to solve the types of problems described in the survey. It also says that Gen Y has the highest incidence (62%) of visiting the public library. The media has misreported this finding as GenY are the heaviest users of public libraries for all activities. The questionnaire used for the study does not ask how frequently people visit the library which is how heaviness of use is determined.

    This study also does not ask what other activities people use when they visit the library for non-problem solving occasions.

    Based on numerous studies we’ve conducted for public libraries, I am quite sure that if frequency of use and services used were considered, older age groups would be the heavy library users, not GenY.

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