A much-cited 2017 Pew Research Center survey loudly proclaims, “Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries.” Over the years, I have seen various individuals and outlets enthusiastically point out how younger generations find the public library useful–the library is not obsolete, after all! However, while the study itself posits some ideas for why Millenials in particular said they were more likely to visit the library–including updated offerings such as computers, meeting spaces, and technology–I have a different theory. Millenials visit the library more often because they have young children. And, indeed, the survey also finds that parents of minors are also more likely to use the library than others.
My sense that Millenials in particular are attracted to the library because of their children comes largely from my anecdotal experience. Many individuals seem to say things like, “I used to love going to the library as a kid.” Or, “My parents would bring me to the library every week.” These same people, though they have fond memories of the library, are not all likely to be current library users, however. They went to the library when someone brought them–perhaps because their parents thought reading was good for them, or maybe because they had a school assignment to complete–but they somehow fell out of the habit as they aged. Maybe they became busier, or had no transportation, or stopped reading as much. For whatever reason, the library is but a distant golden memory.
My own experience is that, as I aged, my parents were less likely to be willing to give me a ride to the library. Eventually, I started walking, biking, or taking the bus, but the reality is that these means of transportation take much longer than simply driving. And because the library was less accessible to me, I was less willing to go often, because that meant I would then have to go back in order to return the materials. I would also take out fewer items, because I had to carry whatever I checked out back home for several miles.
During one memorable visit, after I had walked all the way to the library, only to realize that I didn’t have my card on me, I told the librarian to simply return the book I had on hold. I wouldn’t be back, because I wouldn’t have time to walk there two more times in the upcoming days–once more to get the book, and once more to return it. My lack of transportation truly prevented me from using the library. (And, yes, I did offer other forms of identification, but the librarian was grumpy and refused to look me up in the system.)
Eventually, getting to the library became somewhat easier for me, and I started using it more regularly. There was, however, definitely a time period when library usage became difficult for me, and I could see how such difficulty might be the moment that a person stopped using the library altogether, perhaps even causing them to forget about it as the years passed. That difficulty might be a lack of parental transportation. Or a move to college, where students don’t realize that they can apply for a library card in their new location. Or just a stressful time in one’s life where reading and the library just aren’t on a person’s mind as much.
So that raises the question: Have you found your own library use changing as you grew older? Did you ever stop visiting the library for a time period? Or perhaps altogether? How do you use the library now versus when you were younger?