Libraries in the Digital Age

Despite the advent of the digital age, public libraries across Massachusetts, and the nation, are busier and more needed than ever, and Hopkinton Public Library is no exception. Did you know that more people visit their public library each year in Massachusetts than attend Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games combined?


A Gallup poll conducted in December 2019 found that In U.S., Library Visits Outpaced Trips to Movies in 2019. Specifically, the poll found:

Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far. The average 10.5 trips to the library U.S. adults report taking in 2019 exceeds their participation in eight other common leisure activities. Americans attend live music or theatrical events and visit national or historic parks roughly four times a year on average and visit museums and gambling casinos 2.5 times annually. Trips to amusement or theme parks (1.5) and zoos (.9) are the least common activities among this list.

In Praise of Libraries, a March 2015 article in The Rotarian Magazine, celebrates “society’s most successful civic institution”:

The public library has features that make it different from any other institution. It is public, in the true democratic sense of the word, and it is free. The value of being free cannot be overestimated. You cannot hang out in the local coffee shop for free. You cannot hang out in the diner for free. You cannot hang out at the senior citizens center for free if you are not a senior. Yes, you can pass the time in the park or along the banks of the river, but not in December, especially not in Chicago. But you can hang out in a library no matter who you are, no matter what your income, no matter how you are dressed, no matter what your interest. The library’s philosophy is simple: Come one, come all.

The wide array of things that libraries offer means that they reach all levels of society. They make society better than it would be if left to its own devices. Libraries are a subtle, almost cunning, bulwark against the racial and socioeconomic segregation that society naturally gravitates toward, even when it does not do so out of malice. People congregate in libraries in a way that they do not congregate elsewhere. Because they are not bound by narrow class or economic or cultural strictures, libraries can cater to everyone. Poor people do not shop at the local gourmet store. Teenagers do not frequent stores that sell expensive perfumes or whimsical gifts or Inuit pottery or Veuve Clicquot. The library is the only place where people of all colors, creeds, ages, and political beliefs freely, easily, and inadvertently intermingle. The public library is the only fully democratic institution I know of.

Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries. In this October 2014 report, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries looks at the 21st century library as an outgrowth of “the public library’s proven track record in strengthening communities and calls for libraries to be centers of learning, creativity and innovation in the digital age. No longer a nice-to-have amenity, the public library is a key partner in sustaining the educational, economic and civic health of the community during a time of dramatic change. Public libraries inspire learning and empower people of all ages. They promote a better trained and educated workforce. They ensure equitable access and provide important civic space for advancing democracy and the common good. Public libraries are engines of development within their communities.”

How US libraries are becoming problem solvers. A March 26, 2014, article in The Guardian reports on the need to develop libraries as community hubs and problem solving partners. “[L]ibraries have a bigger part to play in local communities than ever before.” To read the article’s concrete examples of how libraries are serving their communities in the 21st century, click here.

Breaking Out of the Library Mold, in Boston and Beyond. The New York Times reports in a March 8, 2014, article that, with physical and virtual visits “off the charts,” the Boston Public Library and libraries across the country are thinking up innovative ways to keep users happy. “Library usage has increased across the country for a variety of reasons, librarians say, including the recession, the availability of new technology and because libraries have been reimagining themselves…Along with their new offerings, libraries are presenting a dramatically more open face to the outside world, using lots of glass, providing comfortable seating, as much for collaborative work as solitary pursuits, and allowing food and drink.” To read more about how the Boston Public Library and other libraries are evolving, click here.

Libraries at the Heart of Our Communities. Wayne Senville sums up his research piece on the value of libraries to the downtown areas of communities:

The 21st century library has arrived. Its mission goes far beyond loaning out books and providing reference materials. In fact, in a growing number of cities and towns, the library has become the hub of the community, drawing large numbers of new users. This is happening because libraries are providing programs, meeting space, computer access, and resources that are responding to a broader array of community needs.

Moreover, when libraries are located in downtown, village, or neighborhood centers, there’s also a special synergy at work. Libraries generate increased business for local merchants, while those shopping or working downtown visit the library as part of their day.

Libraries and community. They’re really inseparable.

To read the entire article in the Planning Commissioners Journal, No. 75 (Summer 2009), please click here.

Neil Gaiman: Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming. In his October 14, 2013 lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens, author Neil Gaiman writes:

…libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future…We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

For Disaster Preparedness, Pack a Library Card? In this August 12, 2013, NPR article, author Joel Rose describes how “[a]cross the country, in places like [New York], Louisiana and Oklahoma, libraries have served as crucial hubs for information and help in the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes.” Click here to read the article.


Libraries are cool again. In its February 7, 2014, article, The Verge reports:

American libraries, the argument goes, are in crisis. They’ve had their funding cut, been forced to fire staff members, and close branches across the country. But, as Pacific Standard explains, that perception isn’t entirely accurate. In the face of negative headlines, American public libraries have just enjoyed their best year for more than a decade. 2013 saw 16,000 branches circulating 2.46 billion materials among 96.4 percent of the US population. The lending of children’s books and materials increased 28 percent from the previous year, and an independent Pew study showed that 94 percent of people said a public library in the community increases quality of life. As Pacific Standard shows, the American library may not be dying. Instead, the prognosis is looking better than it’s been for ten years.

Click here for the Pacific Standard article, “Who Says Libraries Are Going Extinct?” (February 6, 2014).

Library Services in the Digital Age. In a new survey of Americans’ attitudes and expectations for public libraries, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that “many library patrons are eager to see libraries’ digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age.” To read this January 2013 study reinforcing the need for public libraries in the digital age, please click here.


10 Facts About Americans and Public Libraries. Technology and the internet are changing Americans’ reading habits and also their relationship with libraries. Half of Americans now own a tablet or e-reader and libraries have responded by expanding their digital offerings. But what hasn’t changed is Americans’ love for books. American adults still read about as much as ever and overwhelmingly say libraries play an important role in their communities. In advance of the American Library Association’s 2014 Convention in Philadelphia, click here for some key facts and trends the Pew Research Center has chronicled in their research on America’s public libraries.

Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities! This graphic highlights results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, released December 2013. More than 6,000 Americans ages 16 and older were asked about their views of public libraries and the role these institutions serve in their communities. The results show that Americans strongly value the role of public libraries in their communities, both for providing access to materials and resources and for promoting literacy and improving the overall quality of life. Most Americans say they have only had positive experiences at public libraries, and value a range of library resources and services. Click the graphic to view the full report.

Why Support Your Library. Public libraries provide a huge bang for the buck! Studies across the country have found that for each $1.00 of taxpayer money spent on libraries, communities received the following return on their investment:

  • Florida estimated $6.54 in benefits
  • Wisconsin estimated $4.00 in benefits
  • Indiana estimated $2.38 in benefits
  • Vermont estimated $5.00 in benefits
  • South Carolina estimate $4.48 in benefits.

For more facts and figures about the benefits of supporting our library (and libraries across the country), click here.

For these and other Quotable Facts About America’s Libraries from the American Library Association, click here.

Americans go to school, public and academic libraries more than three times more
often than they go to the movies.

There are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the U.S. – a total of 16,766
including branches.

Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.


The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, January 8, 2014.

An October 11, 2013 Boston Globe article explains why a “new breed of teen services librarians” have emerged and grown in numbers.

“Teen services have exploded in the last decade,” says [Young Adult Library Services Association] president Shannon Peterson. She attributes the increase in part to the relatively large size of the current teen population in the United States. But the push for young adult — or YA — librarians also comes at the confluence of two other trends: the reinvention of public libraries as community centers of learning, information, and enrichment and the surge of literature aimed specifically at a teen audience.

Young Adults Love Libraries! A July 2013 Pew Research Center report on “Younger Americans’Library Habits and Expectations” found that, even in an age of increasing digital resources, those in the under-30 cohort are more likely than older Americans to use and appreciate libraries as physical spaces – places to study for class, go online, or just hang out. Belying the stereotype that younger Americans completely eschew print for digital, those ages 16-29 have wide-ranging media and technology behaviors that straddle the traditional paper-based world of books and digital access to information. To read this Report released on July 25, 2013, please click here.

At Libraries Across America, It’s Game On! As part of the NPR series “Keys to the Whole World: American Public Libraries,” author Sami Yenigun writes about how gaming in public libraries results in increased visits, book circulation, and even literacy. Click here to read this August 11, 2013, article.