The IMLS recently published the findings from their study “InterConnections: A National Study of Users and Potential Users of Online Information.” The study examined the roles public libraries and museums play as sources of information in relation to sources of information found on the web. The conclusions should be heartening to the library and museum communities:
- Libraries and museums evoke consistent, extraordinary public trust among diverse adult users.
- An explosion of available information inspires the search for more information.
- The public benefits significantly from the presence of museums and libraries on the Internet.
- Internet use is positively related to in-person visits to museums and libraries.
- Museums and public libraries serve important and complementary roles in supporting a wide variety of information needs.
I haven’t combed the report in detail, but here are a few thoughts on what implications we might find here for archives.
First, you might note that in the “Average Ratings of Trustworthiness of Sources of Information” chart, libraries come in first with a score of 4.58 (on a scale of 1 to 5). Museums are second with 4.33 and Archives/Historical Associations are third with 4.21. Genealogical societies are next with 3.71, followed by government websites (3.00), commercial websites (2.54), and private individual websites (2.14). I think claiming that we “evoke consistent, extraordinary public trust” is a little inflated, but I think we can claim that we are a highly trusted source of information.
The study also found that: “Number of visits to museums and public libraries and public trust are positively correlated. Users have gained trust through greater use and/or they use museums and public libraries more because of this trust.” The same would probably be true of our users, although, of course, we have far fewer users.
Interestingly, when discussing which users trusted more, information received from libraries and museums in-person or online (I am assuming “remotely” means primarily online), the report chose to highlight that users trusted information received in person more. What I found significant was how close the results were:
- In-person from public libraries: 4.62
- Remote from public libraries: 4.48
- In-person from museums: 4.62
- Remote from museums: 4.54
I take away from this that there is a high level of trust for information received both in-person and “remotely.” The results were similar when people were asked about the “quality” of the information they received:
- In-person from public libraries: 4.38
- Remote from public libraries: 4.2
- In-person from museums: 4.4
- Remote from museums: 3.96
Again, what I find significant here is how close the ratings are–particularly for public libraries.
The report also confirmed something I’ve heard many people say–that increased web usage does not diminish in-person visits, rather, it increases them. “In 2006 remote online access increased adult visits to museums by 75% and to public libraries by 73% (while in-person visits have increased overtime).” I’m not sure if they are claiming that online access caused the increase, but certainly over that time period there was an increase in in-person visits while there was an increase in online visits. There is a lot of data in the report on this subject. It would be interesting to know these kinds of statistics for archives, wouldn’t it? Some data was collected on users’ visits to “other libraries” as opposed to public libraries, but I’m not confident we can really read most archives into those “other libraries.”
The report claims that: “Internet users are about 91% more likely to visit museums and 50% more likely to visit public libraries than non-Internet users.” You can’t draw any conclusions here, can you? It’s a chicken and egg situation, I think. Are Internet users just the kind of people who visit libraries and museums or do they visit libraries and museums because they use the Internet?
In support of its final conclusion, the report draws a correlation between the amount of time and money users spend traveling to libraries and museums and the value they place on them:
“Museums visitors average spending nearly 5 hours of their time travelling to and visiting inside museums in addition to $41 in travel costs and fees. This contrasts with an average of 46 minutes for remote visits. Users’ willingness to pay for both kinds of visits is testimony to the value they place on museums.
Public library visitors spend an average of 73 minutes travelling to and using public libraries and about $2.50 per visit, indicating the high value of public libraries to them.”
I suspect the amount of time and money our users spend traveling to archives would rank much higher than public libraries, and close to museums. This is an interesting way of calculating our “value.”
It’s a shame we don’t have this kind of study for archives. I suspect the results would do a lot of good to support some of our advocacy efforts and bolster the case for increasing our presence on the web.