Gen Z and Millennials are the Greatest Library Fans

New survey shows that US library visitors skew young.

Jan 30, 2024
Gen Z and Millennials are the Greatest Library Fans | New survey shows that US library visitors skew young.

A new report from the American Library Association (ALA) sheds light on a trend that’s proving surprising to many; younger generations are using public library resources at a higher rate than older ones.

The report is based on a Portland State University study, which throws light on the library habits of  Millennials, the generation born between 1981-1996, and members of Gen Z born between 1997-2012, as defined by Mental Floss. It also draws on earlier ethnographic research, the Guardian shares.

Over half of Gen Z and Millennials visited a library in the previous 12 months
In addition to interesting findings including that 54 percent of the 2075 next-gen people questioned in the study had visited a physical library in the previous year, some other noteworthy results emerged.

For instance, while this demographic also borrowed from a library’s digital collection, the survey also showed that younger Americans have a preference for physical versions of books, reading and buying twice as many print books each month as any other other category, on average. Co-author of the study, Kathi Inman Berens, tells NBC News that libraries may just be offering a non-digital alternative, gifting next-gen library visitors with a digital detox experience.

This interest may also be supported by the success of library-related content on #booktok, the Guardian suggests, as this is where next-gen literary influencers, many still high school pupils, drive sales through recommending and reviewing books 

Another key finding is that members of the sample identifying as Black, Indigenous or as people of color report using more digital collections than the general survey population.

The Conversation offers an interesting reason for these survey findings. It suggests that the ethos of sharing and the rejection of commercialism that is part and parcel of library culture chimes with the next-gen interest in values. This value-driven attitude is well documented, shown in articles such as this one from Deloitte based on its 2023 survey of the workplace values of Gen Z and Millennials.

Not just there to read!  
These next-gen library visitors relate to books but also have a more fluid approach to their consumption of media, both in terms of their access to it, and to the types of media they engage with, the study shows. According to co-author, Dr. Rachel Noorda, as quoted in the ALA’s related media release, “Great news: Younger generations of people are reading books, buying books, and visiting libraries. … Not only are Gen Z and Millennials engaging with books, but they are also engaging with other forms of media. They are gamers, readers, writers, and fans who are comfortable with malleability between media categories and forms.”

Today’s next-gen visitors see libraries as a place to “sample” materials. Somewhere to supplement and inform their paid subscriptions to books, information and media that they buy.

Libraries are even proving appealing to digital natives who don’t identify as readers, with the Guardian emphasizing the 43 percent who don’t identify as readers, even though more than half of them had been to their local library in the past 12 months, as the study reveals. 

ALA President, Emily Drabinski,  believes that “These digitally-immersed generations make clear that libraries are about more than books.” She highlights popular attractions like coding clubs, job application help, and gaming, as well as the atmosphere in a physical space that encourages connection and collaboration.

Clearly, the dedication of library workers to building welcoming spaces, programs and collections that their communities want and need may be part of the reason for this next-gen support for these spaces. Today, as The Conversation observes, library visitors can also record podcasts, make music and play video games among other activities. 

As the Guardian points out, libraries have never been just about books. For an “extremely online” younger generation that is so linked to the so-called loneliness epidemic, libraries are also increasingly social spaces.

15-year-old Brooklyn resident, Arlo Platt Zolov, runs the information desk at the central branch of the public library after school. He sums up the allure of libraries to next-gen members this way: “A lot of people my age are surrounded by tech and everything’s moving so quickly. … Part of me thinks we’re rediscovering libraries not as something new, but for what they’ve always been: a shared space of comfort.”

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.