March 17, 2015

Public Libraries and Hispanics

Immigrant Hispanics Use Libraries Less, but Those Who Do Appreciate Them the Most

Foreign-born Hispanics Use Libraries Less Than U.S.-born Hispanics, Whites, BlacksWhen it comes to public libraries, immigrant Hispanics pose both a challenge and an opportunity to the library community. On the one hand, this group, which makes up half of the adult U.S. Hispanic population, is less likely than other Americans to have ever visited a U.S. public library and is much less likely to say that they see it as “very easy” to do so. At the same time, Hispanic immigrants who have made their way to a public library stand out as the most appreciative of what libraries have to offer, from free books to research resources to the fact that libraries tend to offer a quiet, safe space. And they are more likely than other groups to say that closing their community library would have a major impact on their family. These are some of the findings of this latest installment of the Pew Research Center’s reporting on the Center’s landmark 2013 Library Services Survey.

Seven-in-ten (72%) Latinos ages 16 and older say they have visited a public library or bookmobile in person at one point or another in their lives, the survey shows, a share below that of whites (83%) and blacks (80%). But this finding masks a large difference among Latinos. Fully 83% of U.S.-born Latinos say they have visited a public library at some point in their lives—a share similar to that of whites and blacks. However, among immigrant Latinos, a smaller share—60%—say they have visited a public library or bookmobile in person.

Some public library services can also be accessed remotely through library websites. Here, too, though, the survey finds a gap in use between U.S.-born Latinos (49%), blacks (48%) and whites (45%) who say they have accessed a public library website and immigrant Latinos (27%) who say the same.

Foreign-Born Latinos Less Likely to Say It Would Be Very Easy to Use a LibraryThis gap in use between foreign-born Hispanics and U.S.-born Hispanics, whites and blacks may reflect foreign-born Hispanics’ views of the relative ease of using public libraries. According to the survey, just one-third of immigrant Hispanics say they would find it “very easy” to visit a public library in person if they wanted to do so. By comparison, 60% of U.S.-born Hispanics, 67% of whites and 59% of blacks say it would be very easy to visit a public library in person.

One reason immigrant Hispanics may find public libraries more difficult to use is their language use or skills—more than half are Spanish-dominant, according to recent Pew Research Center surveys of Hispanics.1 As a result, the availability of Spanish-language materials at public libraries may be a reason, though the 2013 library survey did not ask about either measure.

When it comes to using public library websites, 24% of immigrant Hispanics say this would be “very easy” to do so, a share below that of U.S.-born Hispanics (42%), whites (51%) and blacks (47%) who same the same. This difference in use between foreign-born Latinos and U.S.-born Latinos, whites and blacks may reflect the gap in internet access between immigrant Latinos and others. According to the 2013 Library Services Survey, 75% of immigrant Latinos use the internet while 92% of U.S.-born Latinos, 87% of whites and 81% of blacks are internet users.2

Immigrant Hispanic Library Patrons Rate Library Services Highly

Foreign-born Hispanic Library Users Rate Library Services HighestThere are more than 17,000 public libraries and bookmobiles nationwide, which together serve 96% of the U.S. population. In fiscal year 2010, libraries circulated some 2.5 billion materials, which include books along with many other materials such as DVDs and e-books (Swan et al., 2013). But public libraries have seen their role shift as they also become a community center and hub for technology (Zickuhr, Rainie and Purcell, 2013), offering a range of services for their users.

The Pew Research library survey finds that among library users, that is, those who have ever used a public library, Hispanics are less likely than whites or blacks to know about the services offered by their local library. Six-in-ten (62%) Hispanic library users say they know about at least some of the library services their local public library offers. By comparison, 71% of white and 74% of black library users say the same about their public libraries.

Nonetheless, Latinos who have ever used a library or have household members who have done so are more likely than whites to say that services libraries offer beyond book lending are important. This is especially true among immigrant Latinos, who are as much as three times as likely as whites to say this. For example, among library users, 85% of immigrant Latinos say that offering a quiet, safe place to spend time, read or study is a “very important” service offered by public libraries for themselves and their families. By contrast, 60% of U.S.-born Latinos, 71% of blacks and 43% of whites say the same. The gap between immigrant Latinos and whites is largest on services such as help finding and applying for a job and help applying for government programs, permits or licenses. Two-thirds (68%) of immigrant Latinos say each of these library services is very important for themselves and their families. Among whites, just 20% say the same about each service.

Hispanic Immigrants See Major Impact of Library Closings on Their Families and Their Communities More Than OthersPerhaps because of the importance of library services for Latino library patrons, Latinos overall are more likely than whites or blacks to say library closings would have a major impact on themselves and their families.

Among those ages 16 and older, 40% of Latinos say this, compared with 26% of whites and 32% of blacks. But here, too, the difference is driven entirely by foreign-born Latinos, half of whom say library closings would have a major impact on themselves and their families, while U.S.-born Latinos’ response is much more like the rest of the population (29% say that the closing of their local public library would have a major impact on their family).

When it comes to the impact the closing of their local public library would have on their community, two-thirds (65%) of Hispanics say the impact would be a major one, a similar share to that of whites (63%) and blacks (64%). However, immigrant Hispanics are the most likely to see an impact on their community. Some 73% say this, compared with 58% of U.S.-born Hispanics.3

Public Opinion About Public Libraries

Overall Positive Feelings About LibrariesOverall, Hispanics have strongly positive feelings about the role of libraries in their communities, just as other Americans do. However, Hispanics are more likely than others to say that public libraries are becoming obsolete as a tool for finding information.

For example, eight-in-ten (80%) Hispanics “strongly agree” that libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading, a share similar to that of blacks (83%), and somewhat higher than that of whites (76%), who say the same. All three groups also strongly agree that public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed because they provide free access to materials and resources, though again the share is somewhat higher among Hispanics (75%) and blacks (77%) than it is among whites (70%). And 71% of Hispanics, 69% of whites and 73% of blacks strongly agree that public libraries improve the quality of life in a community.

Among Latinos, there are some differences between the U.S. born and immigrants in their views of the roles of public libraries. For example, while 44% of U.S.-born Latinos strongly agree that libraries provide many services hard to find elsewhere (a share similar to the 47% of whites who say the same), 63% of immigrant Latinos express the same views. When it comes to whether public libraries improve the quality of life in a community, 77% of immigrant Latinos strongly agree that they do, while 65% of U.S.-born Latinos strong agree.

However, views about public libraries are not always positive among foreign-born Latinos—43% strongly agree that public libraries are not needed as much as they used to be because information can be found elsewhere. By contrast, 27% of U.S.-born Latinos say the same about public libraries, as do 21% of blacks and 19% of whites.

The nation’s Hispanic population is its largest minority group. Today more than 54 million Hispanics live in the U.S., making up 17% of all Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Hispanics are also younger than other groups. Among Hispanics the median age is 27 years, which drops to 18 years among U.S.-born Hispanics (Brown and Patten, 2014). By comparison, the median age for non-Hispanic whites is 42 years.

These findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 6,224 Americans ages 16 and older, including 739 Hispanics. It was fielded July 18-Sept. 30, 2013 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in English and Spanish on landline and cellular phones. The margin of error for the Hispanics sample is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Among the report’s other main findings:

Accessing Public Libraries

Who are Hispanic Library Users?4

How Latinos Consume Information

Ease of Finding Information

About This Report

This report explores patterns of public library use among Hispanics ages 16 and older and their attitudes, opinions and views about the role of public libraries in their communities, the services public libraries offer, and the impact library closings would have on themselves and their families. It is part of a larger research effort by the Pew Research Center that explores the role libraries play in people’s lives and in their communities. The survey data used in this report were underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Findings in this report are based on a nationally representative survey of 6,224 Americans, including 739 Hispanics, ages 16 and older. The survey was fielded in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia from July 18 to Sept. 30, 2013 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for the Pew Research Center. It was conducted in English and Spanish on landline and cellular telephones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level and for the Hispanic sample is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. Unlike standard Pew Research Center surveys of adults 18 and older, this report also contains findings for Americans ages 16 and 17. However, any analyses of behaviors based on educational attainment levels exclude this younger group and are based solely on adults ages 18 and older. For more information, see the methodology description in “How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities” (Zickuhr, Rainie, Purcell and Duggan, 2013).

This report was written by Anna Brown, research assistant, and Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research. Editorial guidance was provided by Claudia Deane, vice president of research; Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research; and Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center. Kathryn Zickuhr, research analyst, provided editorial comments on an earlier draft of the report. Eileen Patten, research analyst, and Renee Stepler, research assistant, number-checked the report. Marcia Kramer was the copy editor.

Disclaimer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

This report is based on research funded in part by 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.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.

All references to whites and blacks are to the non-Hispanic components of those populations. Whites and blacks are single-race-only groups.

“U.S. born” refers to those who say they were born in the United States or on the island of Puerto Rico.

“Foreign born” refers to people who say they were born outside the United States or Puerto Rico.

The terms “foreign born” and “immigrant” are used interchangeably.

  1. Among Hispanic immigrant adults, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 National Survey of Latinos found that 57% are Spanish-dominant, 38% are bilingual and 6% are English-dominant. By comparison, 51% of U.S.-born Latinos are English-dominant, 43% are bilingual and 7% are Spanish-dominant.
  2. This gap in internet access among Hispanics, however, has been closing as the share of immigrant Latinos who are online has been growing faster than the share online among other groups (Lopez, Gonzalez-Barrera and Patten, 2013).
  3. The recession of 2007-2009 hit public libraries and their funding sources hard, and the effects continued even after the recession ended. According to a 2012 survey of state library agencies, officials in 12 states said they were aware of public library closures in the 12 months prior to the survey. Most said there were fewer than five closings, but Michigan reported more than 20. Most states (82%) said public library hours were cut over the previous year (Hoffman, Bertot and Davis, 2012).
  4. In this section, “library users” refer to those who say they have ever visited a public library in person.
  5. Throughout this report, educational attainment figures are based on those ages 18 and older.
  6. For more on reading and books by race and ethnicity, see “E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps: Three-in-ten adults read an e-book last year; half own a tablet or reader” from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project. (Zickuhr and Rainie, 2014)