Pew Research Center
Fact Tank Blog |

Most Americans – especially Millennials – say libraries can help them find reliable, trustworthy information

Americans struggle to determine what news and information sources they should trust and how to discern reliable information online. They worry that fake news is sowing confusion about current events. And many express a desire to get help.

About six-in-ten adults (61%) say they would be helped at least somewhat in making decisions if they got training on how to find trustworthy information online, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data from 2016. What’s more, a majority of Americans say public libraries are helpful as people try to meet their information needs.

About eight-in-ten adults (78%) feel that public libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable and 76% say libraries help them learn new things. Also, 56% believe libraries help them get information that aids with decisions they have to make.

On each of these questions, Millennials (those ages 18 to 35 in 2016) stand out as the most ardent library fans. Young adults, whose public library use is higher than that of older Americans, are particularly likely to say the library helps them with information.

A large majority of Millennials (87%) say the library helps them find information that is trustworthy and reliable, compared with 74% of Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70) who say the same. More than eight-in-ten Millennials (85%) credit libraries with helping them learn new things, compared with 72% of Boomers. And just under two-thirds (63%) of Millennials say the library helps them get information that assists with decisions they have to make, compared with 55% of Boomers.

While the library is seen as one useful resource, the survey also found that 55% of adults say that training to gain confidence in using computers, smartphones and the internet would help in making decisions.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to believe training would help them, both in how to use online resources and in gaining confidence with digital tools. Similarly, those with less than a high school diploma are more likely than those with at least a bachelor’s degree to think training would help. And women are slightly more likely than men to express this view.

Many Americans believe public libraries help them in other ways, according to the survey:

Beyond generational differences, there are some other demographic differences in views on how libraries can help. Women are somewhat more likely than men to report that libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable (82% vs. 75%), learn new things (80% vs. 73%), grow as a person (69% vs. 61%), focus on things that matter in their lives (54% vs. 44%) and cope with a busy world (47% vs. 38%).

Hispanics are especially likely to say that the public library helps them learn new things, grow personally and focus on things that matter in their lives compared with smaller shares of blacks and whites who say the same. Hispanics are also more likely than whites and blacks to say the library aids them in coping with a busy world or with a world where it is hard to get ahead.

Those with less than a high school diploma are more likely than college graduates to say libraries help them in several areas: helping them focus on things that matter in their lives (63% vs. 46%), coping with a busy world (55% vs. 37%), coping with a world where it is hard to get ahead (54% vs. 30%) and protecting their personal data from online theft (48% vs. 18%).

Note: See full topline results here (PDF). Read more about Americans’ 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.