June 21, 2017

Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Millennials in America are more likely to have visited a public library in the past year than any other adult generation.

A new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data from fall 2016 finds that 53% of Millennials (those ages 18 to 35 at the time) say they used a library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months. That compares with 45% of Gen Xers, 43% of Baby Boomers and 36% of those in the Silent Generation. (It is worth noting that the question wording specifically focused on use of public libraries, not on-campus academic libraries.)

All told, 46% of adults ages 18 and older say they used a public library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months – a share that is broadly consistent with Pew Research Center findings in recent years.

Members of the youngest adult generation are also more likely than their elders to have used library websites. About four-in-ten Millennials (41%) used a library website in the past 12 months, compared with 24% of Boomers. In all, 31% of adults used a library website in the past 12 months, which is similar to the percentage that reported using library websites in late 2015.

Relatively high library use by Millennials might be related to changes that many public libraries have undergone in the past 20 years. Previous Pew Research Center surveys have documented how extensively people use computers and internet connections at libraries, as well as how interested they are in extra services such as literacy programs for young children, meeting spaces for community groups, and technology “petting zoos” that provide opportunities to explore 3-D printers and other tech gadgetry.

Across all generations, use of public library mobile apps is less common than use of libraries and their websites. The survey found that just 8% of Millennials used a library app in the past 12 months, as did 9% of Gen Xers and 9% of Boomers.

Beyond demonstrating generational differences in library use, the survey showed other demographic differences in library use. For instance:

  • Women are more likely than men to say they visited a public library or bookmobile in the past 12 months (54% vs. 39%). And women are similarly more likely to use library websites (37% vs. 24%).
  • College graduates are more likely than those whose education ended with a high school diploma to use libraries or bookmobiles in the past 12 months (56% vs. 40%). And a similar gap applies to use of library websites.
  • Parents of minor children are more likely than non-parents to have used a library in the past 12 months (54% vs. 43%).

Read more about Americans’ specific engagement with libraries and library resources in a 2016 Pew Research Center report.

Note: This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the project through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Topics: Generations and Age, Technology Adoption, Libraries, Millennials

  1. Photo of Abigail Geiger

    is an associate digital producer and writer for Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous2 months ago

    Wow! This means nothing! Thanks for stating the obvious! Young adults with no money used a public service? Who would’ve thought? Thanks, Pew!

  2. Anonymous2 months ago

    It goes to show, public libraries continue to be integral to our communities. Thanks, Pew!

  3. Anonymous2 months ago

    thats because everyone else is at work

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      Joke’s on you; I’m 24 and work in a library.

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      Wow. Cynical much?

  4. Trey Mahaffey2 months ago

    it is almost like the younger generation doesn’t have the resources necessary to stay at home with books they have purchased. it’s almost like they are… poor.
    hmmm, perhaps there is a correlation to the age of this demographic and the wealth they have not been able to obtain in their short time here on this earth.

    thank goodness we have “journalists” that make sure we have this type of information.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      Came here to say this. There’s a correlation between income level and using the library, buying houses, having kids, eating out, etc.

      Millennials take a lot of flak for these things. Perhaps they are simply responsible choices given the low incomes and high prices of the times.

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      Or perhaps it is a sign of intelligence on the part of millenials. It is not some kind of deficiency to want or need to use the library. It seems the previous generation felt it too “common” to use the library, and combined with a immediate gratification mentality, took the “I don’t need to share, I will buy my own” stance. Paying for resources that already exist. I mean, it’s not like someone can’t get 95% of what they need from the internet (which few millenials seem to be too cash strapped to have at their fingertips, literally. I think it is a “retro” vibe and returning to more basic, grounded experiences.

  5. James Linnane2 months ago

    I love Pew and its surveys except for a few things. One thing I really hate is the dumb terms you use to describe different age groups. Please, just label the age groups as age groups.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      The age ranges for each of the named groups is included in the bar graphs at the top right of the article.

  6. Anonymous2 months ago

    Public libraries which connect citizens to the wealth of human knowledge are among our greatest achievements as a society. It is nice to see that young people are appreciative of these traditional bastions of culture and learning.

  7. Anonymous2 months ago

    So yeah… isn’t this obvious? “Hey did you know that the younger generations are at the library more often than others?”

    Obviously! School, research, college, studies are very closely related to ANYONE age 14-26 going to school from ANY era lol! Not gonna lie this seems like a silly pointless study:

    On a side-note, did you guys know that Dogs are 63% more likely to bark than Cats?

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      Did you read the full text?
      It doesn’t include school libraries.

      1. Anonymous2 months ago

        I used the public library too when going to school.

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      …Except that the study was for public libraries, which are less useful for academic research than university libraries for the age group in question. In my experience, we use public libraries for leisure and if we really enjoy a book we’ll consider purchasing it from a bookstore, instead of buying a book first and risking spending money on something we don’t ultimately enjoy (books are expensive and take up a lot of space!). Also, as outlined in the article, public libraries have evolved to be great resources for fabrication (like with Maker-type spaces), accessing prohibitively expensive technologies, and building other skills. It’s not pointless: it’s demonstrating that we actively use these community resources and that they are worthwhile programs.

    3. Anonymous2 months ago

      It is not so obvious that young people would choose to go to a library to study or do research. So much information is available through their computers and the internet, why leave the house? Why leave their bedrooms? Why not hang out at a coffee shop
      (many do…I wonder what the percentage is?) It is interesting that so many prefer the calm and quiet of a library.

      1. Anonymous2 months ago

        It’s interesting that now we criticize people for using the library….

    4. Anonymous2 months ago

      The study is of those age 18-35.

  8. Anonymous2 months ago

    I’ve been an avid library user and as a result an avid book reader since I was in elementary school over 50 years ago, so I guess I’m not the typical member of the Silent Generation. Besides anyone who knows me knows “silent” wouldn’t describe me.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      what do you mean by “Silent Generation”?

      1. David Kent2 months ago

        Thanks for your question. Pew Research Center uses a specific set of generations in its research. In this case, the “Silent Generation” is defined as those born 1928-1945. Their age in 2016 was 71 to 88.

        1. Kathryn Grammer2 months ago

          I’m a Boomer, but I think a better name for the “Silent Generation” was the “Greatest Generation”, though I would include all of the 1920s as well. People who grew up during those tumultuous times and survived showed grit we haven’t seen since.

          1. David Kent2 months ago

            As it turns out, the Center has a separate Greatest Generation: Born before 1928, age in 2016 was 89 to 101. As time passes, though, this generation is sadly becoming too small for much reliable analysis.