March 17, 2015

Public Libraries and Hispanics

Chapter 1: Using Public Libraries

A large majority of Hispanics say they have used a public library at some time in their life, and some 46% say they have used one in the 12 months prior to the survey. However, the Pew Research survey shows that Hispanics (especially those who are foreign born) are less likely than whites and blacks to have a library card, to have ever used a public library’s website, and to say it would be “very easy” to use a public library if they wanted to do so.

Visiting Public Libraries

Visiting Public Libraries in PersonAbout seven-in-ten (72%) Hispanics say they have ever used a public library, a somewhat smaller share than either blacks (80%) or whites (83%) who say the same.

While Latinos are less likely than whites or blacks to say they have ever used a library, they are about as likely to say they have used one within 12 months prior to the survey. Some 46% of all Latinos have used a public library or bookmobile in person in the 12 months prior to the survey, roughly the same share as blacks (47%) and whites (48%) who say the same.

Among Hispanics, the survey reveals differences in library use across demographic subgroups. For example, U.S.-born Hispanics (83%) are more likely than foreign-born Hispanics (60%) to say they have ever visited a library in person. And as for visiting one in the 12 months prior to the survey, 54% of U.S.-born Hispanics say they have done this, compared with 36% of foreign-born Hispanics.

These differences in library use by Hispanic nativity reveal another finding. Overall, U.S.-born Latinos (83%) are just as likely as blacks (80%) and whites (83%) to say they have visited a public library or bookmobile at some point in their lives. But when it comes to visiting a public library in the 12 months prior to the survey, fully 54% of U.S.-born Latinos say they have done so, a somewhat higher share than that among whites (48%) or blacks (47%).

Among Hispanics, just as among the general public (Zickuhr, Rainie, Purcell and Duggan, 2013), library use is linked to educational attainment. About six-in-ten (57%) Hispanics with less than a high school education say they have ever used a public library, compared with 69% of those with a high school diploma and 85% of those who attended some college or completed more education.

Library use is also correlated with age. Among Latinos ages 16 to 29, about eight-in-ten (79%) say they have ever visited a library in person. By comparison, 67% of Latinos ages 30 to 49 and 70% of Latino adults ages 50 or older say the same.

Frequency of Library Visits

Library VisitsAmong Hispanics who say they have visited a public library in person in the preceding 12 months, 14% visit at least once per week, 45% say monthly or several times a month and 41% visit less often. Hispanics are about as likely as blacks and whites to visit a library every week. According to the survey, 19% of blacks say they visit a library weekly, 39% say they do so monthly or several times a month and 42% say they visit less frequently, results that are similar to those of Hispanics. And among whites, 13% visit weekly, 43% visit monthly or several times a month and 45% visit less often, also similar to Hispanics.

Library Cards

Half of Hispanics Have a Library CardAnother way to measure engagement with public libraries is whether survey respondents say they have a library card. According to the Pew Research survey, Hispanics are less likely than blacks or whites to have one—51% compared with 64% and 63%, respectively.

However, just as with visiting public libraries, the survey reveals differences among Hispanics. For example, 62% of U.S.-born Hispanics say they have a library card for a public library. By comparison, just 40% of immigrant Hispanics say the same. The share of U.S.-born Hispanics with a library card is just as high as it is among whites and blacks.

Hispanic women are more likely than Hispanic men to say they have a library card (60% vs. 43%). Younger Hispanics ages 16 to 29 (54%) and ages 30 to 49 (55%) are more likely to have one than Hispanics ages 50 and older (40%). And Hispanics with a high school education or some college experience are almost twice as likely to have a library card as those who did not graduate from high school (54% and 64% compared with 30%, respectively).

Accessing Libraries Online

Public Library Website Use Among HispanicsWhile Americans are more likely to visit a public library in person, many also use public library websites, which offer not only information about a library (hours of operation, for example) but also access to some library services (Hoffman, Bertot and Davis, 2012).

According to the Pew Research survey, 38% of Latinos say they have accessed a public library website at some time and 26% say they have used a public library website in the 12 months prior to the survey. By comparison, a greater share of blacks and whites say they have ever used a public library website. For example, 48% of blacks and 45% of whites say they have ever gone to a public library website. And 31% of each group says they have used a public library website in the 12 months prior to the survey.

There are differences within the Latino community as well. For example, U.S.-born Latinos are nearly twice as likely as immigrant Latinos to say they have accessed a public library website site at some time in their lives—49% vs. 27%. Similarly, U.S.-born Latinos are more likely than immigrant Latinos to have used a public library website in the 12 months prior to the survey—34% vs. 19%. The findings for U.S.-born Latinos on accessing a public library website match those of whites and blacks.

This gap in use of library websites between immigrant Hispanics and U.S.-born Hispanics may reflect differences in internet use. According to the survey, 92% of U.S.-born Hispanics use the internet or email at least occasionally, compared with 75% of immigrant Hispanics.

The survey also reveals differences among Hispanics by educational attainment. Those with some college experience (64%) are more likely than those with a high school diploma (30%) or less than a high school diploma (12%) to say they have ever used a public library website. This may also reflect differences in internet use: 96% of those with at least some college education use the internet, a higher share than among high school graduates (85%) and those with less than a high school education (64%).

Accessing Local Public Libraries

Eight-in-Ten Hispanics Know Location of Closest LibraryThough a significant majority of all major demographic groups say they know where their closest public library is, Hispanics are somewhat less likely than whites and blacks to say this. According to the survey, 82% of Hispanics say this, compared with roughly nine-in-ten whites (93%) and blacks (89%).

This finding masks a difference among Latinos linked to nativity. Nine-in-ten U.S.-born Latinos, similar to the share of blacks and whites, say they know the location of their nearest public library. By contrast, a significant but smaller share of foreign-born Hispanics (73%) says the same.

Foreign-born Hispanics Less Likely to Find Using Libraries Very EasyOther differences are present among Hispanics, too. For example, Hispanics with a high school diploma (85%) or with at least some college experience (90%) are more likely than those with less than a high school diploma (67%) to be familiar with the location of their local library.

Though U.S.-born Hispanics (90%) are more likely than foreign-born Hispanics (73%) to know where their closest library is, near equal shares of those who do know its location (82% of the U.S. born and 81% of the foreign born) say it is within five miles. Overall, 81% of Hispanics, 78% of whites and 82% of blacks who know the location say their local library is within five miles of where they live.

The survey also shows that despite the geographic proximity to their local library, Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to say they would find it difficult to use the library if they wanted to, both in person and online. Among all Hispanics, 47% say they think it would be “very easy” to visit in person, compared with 67% of whites and 59% of blacks. U.S.-born Hispanics are almost twice as likely (60%) as the foreign born (33%) to say it would be very easy to visit a public library in person.

According to the survey, the least educated are the most likely to anticipate difficulties. Hispanics with less than a high school education (23%) are at least half as likely as those with a high school diploma (50%) or at least some college experience (60%) to say that they would find it very easy to visit a library in person.

Nearly identical patterns emerge when respondents are asked about using the website of their local public library. One-third of Hispanics say it would be very easy to use a library website, compared with roughly half of whites (51%) and blacks (47%).

Among Hispanics, one-quarter of the foreign born (24%) say they would find it very easy to use a library’s website if they wanted to, compared with 42% of U.S.-born Hispanics. Just 12% of Hispanics with less than a high school education say it would be very easy to use a library website, compared with 36% of high school graduates and about half (47%) of those who have completed at least some college.

Libraries and Children

Among parents, Latinos are less likely than whites to have children who visit libraries or bookmobiles. According to the survey, about six-in-ten (62%) Latino parents with children under 18 say their child has visited a library in the previous 12 months. By comparison, 71% of white parents and 69% of black parents say this. But these findings hide a large difference among Latinos. Some 72% of U.S.-born parents with children under 18 say their children visit libraries. But among immigrant parents, 56% say their children visit public libraries.

Children of U.S.-born Latino Parents Visit Libraries More Than Children of Latino Immigrant Parents

Book Reading

Hispanics report reading a median of three books in the 12 months prior to the survey.7 Though there are no statistically significant differences by nativity or race/ethnicity in the median number of books read, there are modest differences in the share of each who are readers. Three-quarters of Hispanics say they read at least one book in that 12-month period, lower than the shares among whites (82%) and blacks (80%). The share of U.S.-born Hispanics who have read at least one book in that period (80%) is comparable to those of whites and blacks, while 72% of foreign-born Hispanics say the same.

As libraries face a rapidly changing world of technology with e-reading rising in popularity, they are adjusting. More than three-quarters of libraries (76%) offered access to e-books in 2011-2012, a 9% increase from the previous year, and 39% offer e-readers for checkout (Hoffman, Bertot and Davis, 2012). According to the survey, nearly half (44%) of Hispanics own either an e-reader such as a Nook or Kindle, a tablet computer such as an iPad or Google Nexus, or both. More data on e-reader and tablet ownership can be found at Pew Research Center’s Internet, Science & Technology (Zickuhr and Rainie, 2014).

  1. Respondents were asked how many books they read either all or part of the way through in the past 12 months, including any print, electronic or audiobooks they have read or listened to.