Use and non-use of public libraries in the information age

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Sin, S.-C. J., & Kim, K.-S. (2008). Use and non-use of public libraries in the information age: A logistic regression analysis of household characteristics and library services variables. Library & Information Science Research, 30(3), 207:215.

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View article page at the Library & Information Science Research website. (DOI: 10.1016/j.lisr.2007.11.008)    


For public libraries to achieve effective strategic planning, they must know who uses the public library and who does not use it. This study examines the characteristics of users and non-users of the public libraries using socio-demographic data from the Current Population Survey, a nationally representative survey of over 50,000 households conducted during October 13–19, 2002, and library services data from the Public Libraries Survey 2002. The study finds 34 variables to be significant. These variables including factors that have not often been studied, such as distance from the library, age/school attendance status, use of other types of library, and public library expenditure per state capita. It is also worth noting that disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, and people with disabilities, were less likely to use public libraries. This was true even after other factors such as education and income were held constant. The study provides a national-level assessment of the under-served populations. It also offers triangulation to other existing research, particularly qualitative information behavior studies of specific groups.


Among the 57,148 households surveyed, 27,511 households (48.1%) had a household member who used the public library in the past year.

Based on the findings from the logistic regression analysis, households are more likely to be library users if they have one or more of the following characteristics:

    Household demographics and social characteristics

  • Larger household size
  • Householder is not of ethnic minority
  • Householder is married, and spouse is present
  • Female householder
  • Household that do not include a member with disabilities
  • Household members are not recent immigrants
    • Household education characteristics

    • Household with higher education attainment
    • Household with members aged 3 to 20, or 30 to 49, who are attending schools
    • Household with members aged 6 to 13, or 18 to 20, who are not attending schools
    • Household without members aged 21 to 29, or 70 or above, who are not attending schools
      Household economic and job-related characteristics

    • Household with high but not the highest income
    • Household with working householder, especially in managerial or professional occupation
    • Household members own business
    • Household members looking for job
    • Householder did not work too many hours per week
    • Household with a telephone
    • Higher percentage of retired person
    • Lower percentage of working adults
      Household use of libraries

    • Household using PreK-12 libraries, academic libraries, libraries at work, or other libraries

      Household locational characteristics

    • Household that is close by a public library
    • Household that resides in a medium size city
    • Household in the East North Central, West North Central, or Mountain states

      Public Libraries services variables (state level)

    • Household in states where there are more branch libraries per 10,000 population
    • Household in states with higher library collection expenditures per state capita
    • Household in states with higher number public Internet terminals per state capita