Recent studies have shown that the most common age range for public library visitors is between 18 and 35. A Pew Research Center report revealed that, during the fall of 2016, 53 percent of millennials reported visiting a library or bookmobile in the last 12 months compared to 45 percent of Gen Xers, 43 percent of Baby Boomers, and 36 percent of those in the Silent Generation.
Far from embodying the plugged-in, drawn-away stereotype, it turns out that many millennials are engaged, connected, and ready to embrace all that today’s public libraries have to offer. Taking a closer look at the face of modern libraries, it’s easy to see why they have such great appeal for this generation:
Libraries Are Naturally Eco-Friendly
Millennials are keenly aware of environmental issues. Forbes reports that 80 percent of this group prefers to work for employers that prioritize sustainability practices. They’re willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products and generally value anything that will help them make the world a better place. Marketers are responding to this data with an abundance of eco-friendly packages that put an emphasis on green, sustainable features.
Libraries have always been green. The premise of sharing printed materials is a naturally eco-friendly concept, and many libraries are going further to enhance their eco-friendly image. The Appaloosa Branch Library in Scottsdale, Arizona utilized auto-adjusted daylighting to maximize natural light without overheating the space. New York City’s Battery Park City Library features reclaimed wood floors, low-flow water fixtures in restrooms, and carpeting made from recycled tires.
Features like these have a natural appeal for the millennial generation, which may help explain some of the library’s notable appeal for visitors in this age group. Dr. Petra Hauke of the Berlin School of Library Information Science at Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin and Dr. Klaus Ulrish Werner of the Philological Library, Freie Universitat Berlin produced a paper on going green as a marketing strategy for libraries. The pair suggested activities such as serving fair-trade coffee, eliminating paper cups, and offering resource-saving copy services.
Libraries Spearheaded the Sharing Economy
Millennials grew up during a difficult economic period. In 2013, 25-year-olds carried an average of $20,926 in student loan debt, according to Goldman Sachs. Many took this debt into a precarious job market. As a result, the millennial generation has come to value frugality and sharing. Entrepreneur posits that “for this generation ownership can instead be an obstacle in care and maintenance.” From carpooling to cloud sharing, Millennials are big fans of the sharing economy.
Libraries have operated around a sharing economy for millennia. The library system facilitates simple, streamlined sharing of resources in numerous ways. The most obvious is the sharing of the facility’s books, movies, and music. Libraries also allow patrons to digitally share materials including ebooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers.
Some libraries take this even further and offer additional items in their shared collection. The Charles County Public Library system in Maryland has a cake pan collection with novelty pans users can check out. The Oakland Public Library in Oakland, California, offers toy lending. With their natural affinity for the sharing economy, millennials are particularly likely to appreciate using libraries to share more than books.
Free Internet Draws the Tech-Minded
Computers, internet access, and speedy Wi-Fi are major draws for millennials, with 45 percent of library users between the ages of 16 and 29 taking advantage of these services. Raised alongside technology, millennials were among the earliest digital natives. Julie Todaro, past president of the American Library Association, speaking of millennials, notes that “these kids are familiar with the fact that the library offers them the bandwidth and wireless access they might not get anywhere else.”
Research is the most common activity performed with libraries’ tech resources. Online classes and certifications are growing in popularity, with 36 percent of library computer users taking advantage of these opportunities, up from 17 percent in 2015.
Millennials may also find appeal in libraries’ other tech-based perks, from access to 3-D printers to e-readers and iPads on loan. The New York Public Library appeals to patrons who prefer text or email communications by offering librarian assistance through these methods. At the Contra Costa County Library, visitors can use the Library-a-Go-Go system to check books out of a vending machine at high traffic, non-library locations. There’s no question that modern libraries are working to keep pace with their millennial visitors.
Innovative Programs Offer Fresh Opportunities
In 2015, just 17 percent of library users took part in programs, classes, or lectures, but this number jumped to 27 percent in 2016. There was a 2 percent increase in the number of library users who attended meetings or groups, as well. Today’s public libraries offer valuable resources in a wide variety of areas, usually free of charge, and these statistics indicate that library users are taking note and responding with greater participation.
At the Seattle Public Library, for example, visitors can take classes on using Etsy, WordPress, or CSS/HTML. The New York Public Library offers an adult coloring program. Maxine Bleiweis, director of The Westport Library in Connecticut, received the Charlie Robinson Award from the Public Library Association in 2015 and was lauded in Forbes for her exciting schedule that includes over 1,600 annual programs. The calendar includes stargazing with library telescopes from the parking lot, indie film nights, knitting classes, chess clubs, and job fairs.
Today’s public libraries are appealing gathering spaces that garner increasing attention from millennials. Library directors and other professionals keen to capitalize on the trend should continue to offer the types of resources and activities that are likely to engage this audience.
If you’re interested in helping libraries reach their full potential for patrons of all ages, consider pursuing an online library science degree. The USC Master of Management in Library and Information Science online program can help you on your journey to shape the libraries of the future.
Environmentally Friendly Libraries – BookRiot
How Millennials are Defining the Sharing Economy – Entrepreneur Europe
Let them Lend Cake Pans – Library Journal
Toy Lending Library – Oakland Public Library Kids
Classes and Learning for Adults – The Seattle Public Library
Classes & Workshops – New York Public Library
Millennials as Digital Natives: Myths and Realities Nielsen Norman Group
Upcoming Events – The Westport Library