Support our Libraries: More than half of adults believe digital services are 'no substitute' for traditional libraries study finds

More than half of adults believe that digital services are not an adequate replacement for traditional libraries according to a new study.

The survey, conducted by the University of Strathclyde partnered with YouGov, found that 57 per of adults disagreed that digital alternatives were suitable replacements for traditional services, while 22 per cent believed they were.

It also found that while the number of people using digital library services increased by 11 per cent in 2020 – 2021, from pre-pandemic levels, they still amounted to only a fifth of all library users.

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Over 2000 adults took part in the survey in 2021 run by Dr David McMenemy, Professor Ian Ruthven, and Dr Elaine Robinson.

Dr McMenemy believes that during lockdown people missed stress-free physical libraries, where they could ordinarily have gone to relax, borrow books or study.

He said: “They are also social spaces at the heart of communities, where people can take their children. They host events and even, in some cases, have even acted as Covid-19 vaccination centres."

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He added that along with the survey a Freedom of Information request was made to public library authorities across the UK.

Support our Libraries: More than half of adults believe digital services are 'no substitute' for traditional libraries study finds. (Picture credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko\TASS via Getty)

He continued: “The responses show that, in the vast majority of libraries, increases in e-book use account for on average 10-20 per cent of the physical loans that might have been expected had the libraries been open, and this bears out the findings of our survey.

“There has been a definite rise in use of e-books during lockdown, but it comes from a very low base. When library patrons can choose between e-books and physical books, they choose physical books.”

Respondents were also invited to state what, if any, impacts the closure of libraries during lockdown had on them. Some pointed to not being able to make weekly visits with their kids to their local library, while some simply missed the privilege of borrowing books.

Others however found “unexpected benefits” using digital services throughout the pandemic. A common answer from participants was that they had just never thought to use libraries for audio books, despite some finding them more convenient than physical books.

Around 24 per cent of respondents agreed that their lockdown experience might change the way they use public libraries in the future, while 47 per cent said it would not.

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