According to a new study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, public libraries are thriving thanks to a core group of devotees who have qualities we don't usually associate with bookish people -- they are, generally speaking, more sociable and active people than those who don't go to libraries.
The report, which surveyed more than 6,000 people over age 16, paints a somewhat surprising portrait of American library lovers. More than two-thirds of Americans are "actively engaged" with their public libraries. And the most frequent and devoted library users, about 30% of the population, tend to be a younger, more educated and technologically savvy group.
People who love their public libraries the most are "avid readers and think libraries play an essential role in encouraging literacy and a love of reading," the report said. "Members of these high engagement groups also tend to be active in other parts of their communities. They tend to know their neighbors, they are more likely to visit museums and attend sporting events, and they are more likely to socialize with families and friends."
Public library users' ranks include many "print traditionalists," the report said, but the core of library lovers consists of people who have also embraced new technologies. "The most highly-engaged library users are also big technology users," the report said.
By contrast, those who eschew public libraries the most tend to be a socially alienated group, the Pew study found. The study said the 4% of respondents who were least likely to visit libraries and who found them unessential to community life also tend to be "somewhat less engaged socially and from other community activities: 45% do not regularly do any of the community activities we asked about, such as attending sports events, museums, or going to bookstores."