A New Must Read OCLC Library Usage Report

As a follow up to its landmark 2003 Environmental Scan, OCLC has just released Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. Here’s a description of the scope of this new report:

The topics explored in the survey include the perceptions and preferences of information consumers; users’ relationship with and use of libraries, including usage of and familiarity with electronic information resources; awareness of libraries and resources offered; the “Library” brand and its ubiquity and universality; trust of libraries and their resources; and people’s perceptions of the library’s purpose/mission.

While the report is not specific to the academic sector, OCLC did include close to 400 college students among its survey population. Here are two nuggets of information provided by the report about college students:

* College students have the highest rate of library use and broadest use of library resources, both physical and electronic.

* Only 10 percent of college students indicated that their library’s collection fulfilled their information needs after accessing the library Web site from a search engine

Many of the findings compare how users respond to search engines and libraries/librarians, and how satisfied they are with each for finding information. It will be interesting to see how library pundits use the findings in this report to promote their philosophies. But first, let’s give this report a thorough reading.

2 thoughts on “A New Must Read OCLC Library Usage Report”

  1. Okay, can’t say it’s had a thorough reading – that sucker’s pretty long – but I have one question about our brand.

    What’s wrong with books?

    The report expresses some astonishment (and perhaps sublimated frustration) that again and again, people identify libraries with books. Of course most library users think of books. They like books. They want books. They like the fact we let them have books for free. How cool is that? Maybe a lot of public library users aren’t really all that interested in databases and maybe there’s nothing terribly wrong with that. Do we have to cram a new brand down their throats? Maybe we’ll succeed and they’ll go to a bookstore for books and all the good things they associate with them and to Google for information.

    We have a weird relationship with books and reading. We think providing information is noble but providing books is … just providing books. That’s like, so yesterday. Catherine Sheldrick Ross has done some stellar work on uncovering what library users get out of pleasure reading – they don’t seek information, they encounter it, and it influences their knowledge base profoundly. See “Finding without Seeking: What Readers Say about the Role of Pleasure Reading as a Source of Information,” Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services 13, no. 2 (2000): 72-80.

    Admittedly, when we’re just looking at academic libraries books are less prominent in people’s perception, and information more prominent than pleasure, but I sometimes think we neglect the powerful meaning we have in people’s symbolic lives by wishing we were more like Google and less like … a library.

    If people said “When I think of libraries I think of books. Yuck! Pew! Icky, nasty, books” I’d say we have a brand problem. But can’t we “refresh” our brand by letting the public indulge in a little healthy book lust?

    You just knew I’d say that, didn’t you?

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