The Benefits 
 of Public 
 Libraries in 
 Everyday Life


National study reveals that citizens appreciate libraries’ role in promoting equal access to information, fostering interest in literature, and advancing lifelong learning and democracy.

Sami Serola
Lecturer
School of Information Sciences
University of Tampere


Sari Serola

Lent books per inhabitant, whole country in 2011.
Finnish Public Libraries Statistics

Borrowers in public municipal libraries, 2011.
Finnish Public Libraries Statistics

B
efore the study The Role of Public Libraries in Citizens' Activities there has been no national survey of the benefits of public libraries in Finland. Earlier studies have only measured the rate of library use and reading (Eskola 1975 and 1979; Lotti 1989; Statistics Finland 1978 and 2002). However, Pertti Vakkari’s (1983) research on public libraries as satisfying the citizens’ reading hobby is an exception. The outcome of library use has not been studied at all in Finland and there are only few international studies (Chen and Hernon 1982; McClure and Bertot 1998; Vavrek 2000; Lance et. al. 2001; Debono 2002).

This study by myself and Pertti Vakkari (2011) looks into the role of the public library in the everyday activities of local residents in comparison to other culture and information providers and the extent to which the library satisfies the local residents' need for information, recreation and culture. The starting point in the study is people's key daily activities, such as study, work, everyday activities, human relations and hobbies. It throws light on the benefits that people perceive they get in their activities by using the services of the public library or corresponding institutions, e.g. the internet, television or the press.

The data was collected in random sampling among Finns aged between 15 and 79 living in continental Finland whose contact data was found in the population register. The questionnaire was posted in the spring of 2010 to 6000 persons, 1000 of whom returned it.

Based on the findings, the library yielded the best benefit in the acquisition of literature and in leisure time activities and hobbies. The rate of use of other channels was not found to reduce the use of the library or its perceived benefit. Those who were frequent users of other channels in a given sphere of life felt that the library was also beneficial for the same purpose.

The public library is most commonly considered useful by local residents as a source of fiction (71%), non-fiction (67%) and as a source of materials for self-education in leisure time (58%). As regards benefits relating to everyday life, cultural pursuits and career goals, the less educated, the middle-aged, the elderly, workers and entrepreneurs felt they gained most benefit from library services in their everyday activities. The benefit of the library in cultural pursuits was most common among women, young people, students and secondary school certificate holders. Those who felt that they had gained benefits relating to their career goals (studies and work) in particular were most commonly employed persons, women, secondary school certificate holders, managers and senior white-collar workers.

In the opinion of local residents, the public library had best succeeded in promoting equal access to information, fostering interest in literature and arts, and advancing lifelong learning and democracy. The trademark of the public library in the minds of the public is its role in offering equal opportunities for enjoying literature, and arts and for personal development.

In weekly use, the library cannot compete with other, more easily accessible channels, such as the internet, television, and newspapers and periodicals. However, the library is a popular and vital channel of information acquisition, considering that 49% of the respondents said they visit the library once a month and 81% that they had visited the library during the past year. The most common form of use is book borrowing. The asset of the library in comparison with other channels is its low cost and credibility; these were the qualities that the majority of the respondents thought described the library very well. The respondents felt that the internet had changed the meaning of the library for them only to some extent.

The accumulation in use of channels indicates that the digital divide and informational marginalisation are interlinked. The elderly and the least educated who seldom use the library are also the least active users of the internet.

Sources:
  • Chen, C. ja Hernon, P. (1982). Information seeking. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
  • Debono, B. (2002). Assessing the social impact of public libraries: what the literature is saying. APLIS, 15(2), 80.
  • Eskola, K. (1975). Suomalaisten kulttuuriharrastukset. Valtion kirjallisuustoimikunnan lukemisharrastustutkimuksen I osaraportti. Helsinki: Valtion painatuskeskus.
  • Eskola, K. (1979). Suomalaiset kirjanlukijoina. Tammi, Helsinki.
  • McCLure, C. ja Bertot, J. (1998). Public library use in Pensylvania: Identifying uses, benefits and impacts. Pennsylvania State Dept. of Education, Harrisburg.
  • Lance, K. C., Steffen, N. O., Logan, R., Rodney, M. J., & Kaller, S. (2001). Counting on results: new tools for outcome-based evaluation of public libraries. Aurora, CO: Bibliographical Center for Research. Available at http://www.lrs.org/documents/cor/CoRFin.pdf (Accessed February 2002).
  • Serola, S. ja Vakkari, P. (2011). Yleinen kirjasto kuntalaisten toimissa; Tutkimus kirjastojen hyödyistä kuntalaisten arkielämässä. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2011:21. Saatavana verkossa: http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Julkaisut/2011/Yleinen_kirjasto_kuntalaisten_toimissa.html
  • Tilastokeskus (1978). Tilastollisia tiedonantoja 60: Kulttuuritilasto 1977. Tilastokeskus, Helsinki.
  • Tilastokeskus (2002). Vapaa-aikatutkimus 2002. Saatavana verkossa: http://www.stat.fi/til/vpa/2002/index.html
  • Vakkari, P. (1983). Kirjojen lukeminen ja yleiset kirjastotutkimus yleisten kirjastojen käytöstä kirjakanavana. Hki: Kirjastopalvelu.
  • Vavrek, B. (2000a). Is the American Public Library Part of Everyone's Life? American Libraries, 31(1), 60.
See Sami Serola's thought provoking comments on libraries' priorities.
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