March 17, 2015

Public Libraries and Hispanics

Chapter 2: Latinos’ Attitudes About Public Libraries and Library Services

Hispanics feel strongly that libraries are important for their communities, just as most Americans do. But when it comes to specific library services, the Pew Research survey reveals that Hispanic library users, especially immigrants, value services such as access to free books and media or having a place to do research more than white library users. The survey also finds that a majority of Hispanics see library closings as having major impacts on their communities.

Libraries and Communities

Role of Public Libraries in Hispanic CommunitiesThe Pew Research survey on library use asked respondents about the roles of libraries in their communities such as promoting literacy, improving quality of life, providing services that are hard to find elsewhere and that by providing free services, public libraries give everyone a chance to succeed. The survey also asked whether libraries keep up with new technology and whether libraries are becoming obsolete.

Overall, Hispanics are more likely than whites to strongly agree with nearly every statement about libraries tested—both the positive and the negative. Nonetheless, differences in opinions between the two groups are generally not large.

For example, 80% of Hispanics strongly agree that public libraries are important because they “promote literacy and a love of reading.” By comparison, 76% of whites say the same. Similarly, large majorities of Hispanics and whites say that public libraries “play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed” because they “provide free access to materials and resources,” but Hispanics are somewhat more likely than whites to say this (75% vs. 70%). Around half (54%) of Hispanics say that public libraries “provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere,” a larger share than that of whites (47%) who say the same.

Yet the survey also finds that Latinos are more likely than whites or blacks to see libraries as becoming obsolete. For example, a sizable minority (36%) of Latinos strongly agrees that “people do not need public libraries as much as they used to because they can find most information on their own.” By comparison, only 19% of whites and 21% of blacks strongly agree with this statement.

Foreign-born Hispanics are more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to strongly agree on nearly every statement about public libraries tested in the survey. For example, foreign-born Hispanics are more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to strongly agree that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere (63% vs. 44%). Also, fully 85% of Hispanic immigrants strongly agree that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading, while 75% of U.S.-born Hispanics strongly agree. And about three-quarters of foreign-born Hispanics (77%) strongly agree that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community, compared with 65% of U.S.-born Hispanics.

Foreign-born Latinos are also more likely than U.S.-born Latinos to agree with negative statements about libraries. Some 43% of Latino immigrants strongly agree that people do not need libraries as much as they used to because they can find most information on their own, while only about a quarter of U.S.-born Latinos (27%) say the same. And foreign-born Latinos are more than twice as likely as U.S.-born Latinos to say that public libraries have not done a good job keeping up with new technologies (26% vs. 10%). These findings stand in contrast to the findings from the survey about library use as foreign-born Latinos are less likely than U.S.-born Latinos to use public libraries or library websites.

There are also some differences among Hispanics in their views of public libraries by age groups. Hispanics ages 30 and older are more likely than those ages 16 to 29 to strongly agree on each question tested. For example, 85% of Hispanics ages 30 and older strongly agree that libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading. By comparison, a somewhat smaller majority (71%) of those ages 16 to 29 say the same. About three-quarters of those ages 30 and older (77%) strongly agree that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community, compared with 61% of those ages 16 to 29. And a majority of adults ages 30 and older (60%) strongly agree that public libraries provide many services that people would have a hard time finding elsewhere, while 42% of 16- to 29-year-olds say the same.

Hispanics between the ages of 30 and 49 are more likely than their younger counterparts to strongly agree that people do not need public libraries as much as they once did because they can find most information on their own. Some four-in-ten 30- to 49-year-olds say this, compared with 30% of 16- to 29-year-olds and 35% of those ages 50 and older.

Importance and Impact of Libraries

Hispanic Library Patrons Rate Library Services as ImportantWhen it comes to the impact public library services have on themselves and their families, the Pew Research survey finds that Hispanics who have ever used the library or have household members who have ever done so are more likely than white library users to see public library services as important to themselves personally or to their families.8

Among the highest rated services for Hispanic library users is having a quiet and safe place to spend time, read or study—71% say this is very important to them and their families. By comparison, 43% of white library users say the same. An equal 71% share of black library users say having a quiet and safe place to read and study is very important to them.

Also among the most highly rated services are resources to do research for school or work—68% of Hispanics who use libraries or have household members who do say this is a very important service, as do 66% of black library users. By contrast, only 39% of white library users say this is a very important public library service.

Two-thirds (67%) of Hispanics say access to free books and media is a very important service offered by public libraries for themselves and their families, as do 62% of blacks. Just 49% of whites say the same.

Even for the lowest rated service asked about in the survey, programs or events for adults, a sizable minority of Hispanics (45%) and blacks (46%) who use public libraries or have household members who do say this service is very important to themselves and their families. Among white library users, only 21% say the same about adult programs.

Differences also exist by nativity among Hispanics who use libraries or have household members who do. For example, 85% of immigrant Hispanic library users say having a quiet, safe place to spend time, read or study is very important to themselves or their families. By contrast, 60% of U.S.-born Hispanics say the same. Similarly, when it comes to using library resources to help find a job or apply for one, two-thirds (68%) of immigrant Hispanic library users say this is very important. Among U.S.-born Hispanics, just 43% say the same about this service.

Hispanics are about as likely as blacks to say that internet, computers and printers are a very important service provided by public libraries (54% and 57%, respectively), more than twice as likely to say this as whites (24%). Foreign-born Hispanics (68%) are more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics (44%) to say this is a very important service.

According to the survey, eight-in-ten Hispanic internet users access the internet at home, compared with 85% of blacks and 93% of whites. This may help to explain why Hispanics place a greater importance than whites on internet, computer and printer services provided by public libraries. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of public libraries report that they are the only source of free public computer and internet access in their communities (Hoffman, Bertot and Davis, 2012).

Not all Latinos see these services as important for themselves or their families. But here, too, differences by nativity and age exist. Some 16% of U.S.-born Latinos who have ever used a public library or who say someone in their household has say they found none of the services tested to be very important for themselves or their families, compared with only 5% of foreign-born Latinos who say the same. In addition, younger Hispanics (who are more likely to be U.S. born) have similar views. Fully 16% of those ages 16 to 29 say they do not find any of these services to be very important to themselves or their families, compared with 9% of Hispanics ages 30 and older.

Among Hispanic Library Users, Immigrants More Likely Than U.S.-born to Rate Services as “Very Important”

Impact of Closing Public Libraries

Library Closing’s Impact on Families and CommunitiesThe Pew Research survey asked respondents about the impact of public library closings on respondents’ families and also on their community. According to the survey, Hispanics are more likely than whites and blacks to say that there would be a major impact on them and their family if their local public library closed. Fully four-in-ten Hispanics say there would be a major impact, compared with 32% of blacks and 26% of whites. Among Hispanics, the survey finds differences on this question, too. For example, half of foreign-born Hispanics say there would be a major impact on them and their families if their local library were to close, compared with only 29% of U.S.-born Hispanics who say the same—a 21 percentage point gap. Hispanic women (45%) also are more likely to predict a serious impact on their families than are Hispanic men (35%).

When looking only at Hispanics who have used a library or have had a family member who used a library, the pattern holds. Some 42% of these Hispanics say there would be a major impact, compared with 33% of blacks and 28% of whites. Among Hispanics who have used a library or live in a household with a library user, 55% of foreign-born Hispanics say there would be a major impact on them and their families if their local library were to close, compared with only 30% of U.S.-born Hispanics who say the same.

When asking about the larger impact on their communities, the survey finds that a greater share of all Hispanics say there would be a major impact on their community if their public library closed than say it would affect their family. Over half (65%) of Hispanics say the impact on their community of a library closing would be major, about on a par with blacks (64%) and whites (63%). Hispanic immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to say the closing of their local public library would have a major impact on their community (73% vs. 58%). Hispanic women express more worry than do Hispanic men about the impact of a public library closing on their community—73% and 58%, respectively, say it would have a major impact.

Knowledge of Library Services

Hispanics Less Likely Than Whites or Blacks to be Familiar with Library Services and ProgramsAbout six-in-ten Hispanics (62%) who have ever used a public library feel that they know at least some of the services and programs their local library offers, compared with 71% of whites and 74% of blacks.

Nearly all Hispanics who have ever visited a public library in person say that it was easy to find what they were looking for (60% say it was “easy” and 30% say “very easy”). More U.S.-born Hispanics describe the experience as “very easy” (37% of U.S.-born compared with 20% of foreign-born Hispanics), but in total, around 90% of both groups say it was easy or very easy to find what they were looking for.

  1. Throughout this section, “library users” will be used to refer to those who have ever used a public library or who have a household member who has ever used a public library.