LITA President’s Program: Internet Culture: What Do We Know About User Behavior?

Sunday, June 25, 4-5 pm in the Sheraton New Orleans

A good crowd appeared for the LITA President’s Program: Internet Culture: What Do We Know About User Behavior? despite some location confusion. The conference program guide correctly identified the location as the Sheraton New Orleans on page 34 but misdirected readers to the Marriott across the street on page 136. I discovered this by going to the Marriott first.

LITA President Patrick J. Mullen
introduced Cathy De Rosa from the OCLC Online Computer Library Center and John B. Horrigan of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Both discussed results from demographic research conducted by their organizations.

De Rosa’s Powerpoint presentation was much like the good new/bad news routine on the old Hee Haw television program (LITA is going to Nashville this fall).

De Rosa’s good news: People still value libraries. 55 per cent say they checked out a book in the study year.

De Rosa’s bad news: When people search for information on the Internet, 84 per cent start with search engines. One per cent start with library web sites.

De Rosa’s good news: One per cent is holding steady. In a study from the 1940s, one per cent of respondents said they went to the library for medical information. A newer study indicates that Internet users go to library web sites two per cent of the time.

De Rosa’s bad news: Statistics for reference transactions at academic libraries are falling. She showed a graphic that could have come from a comedy routine about a business that is failing.

De Rosa’s good news: Libraries are not the biggest losers in the shift toward an online lifestyle. Television is the biggest loser.

De Rosa’s bad news: Libraries are losing nearly as much as television.

De Rosa’s good news: People still value time spent with family and friends.

De Rosa’s bad news: People do not question the information that they find on the Internet. They report that they trust it based on their common sense or their ability to just know what is right.

More of De Rosa’s data can be found by going to the report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources (2005).

Horrigan’s presentation was less about libraries, but more encouraging in terms of the people. A study from March 2006 shows 73 per cent of adults and 87 per cent of teens are using the Internet. With a trend toward more high-speed access in homes, Americans are benefitting more from the information they gather from the web.

People are using the web to reduce the uncertainity in their lives. They are asking better questions of their health providers. They are using government web sites to get services. More people are gathering information before making economic decisions, such as buying cars and investing.

Digital information is empowering. Internet users are more informed about politics and more likely to vote.

High-speed Internet access is fostering creativity. 48 million people have created or posted content on the Internet. Social networks are growing rapidly.

Much more data is available at the Pew Internet & American Life Project web site.

In the question and answer period, the speakers said that there is still a role for libraries in our society, as people trust libraries. They still want books and a place to gather.