Female Public Library Patrons Value the Library for Services, Programs, and Technology

Virginia Wilson

Abstract


A Review of:
Fidishun, Dolores. “Women and the Public Library: Using Technology, Using the Library.” Library Trends 56.2 (2007): 328-43.

Objective – This study attempts to give insight into why and how women use the public library and information technology, and how they learned to use the technology.

Design – Qualitative survey.

Setting – The research took place at the Chester County Library in Exton, Pennsylvania, USA.

Subjects – One hundred and eighty-four female library patrons 18 years and older.

Methods – An anonymous qualitative survey was handed out to all patrons at the Chester
County Library 18 years of age and older who came into the library on four separate days and times. Times were chosen to obtain a good representation of library patrons, and
included daytime, evening, and weekend hours. The survey consisted of questions about library use, information sought, information seeking behaviour, technology used, and how the respondents learned to use the technology. The surveys were collated and spreadsheets were created that reported answers to yes/no and other data questions. Word documents facilitated the listing of more qualitative answers. The data were analyzed using a thematic content analysis to find themes and patterns that emerged to create grounded theory. In thematic content analysis, “the coding scheme is based on categories designed to capture the dominant themes in a text (Franzosi 184). There is no universal coding scheme, and this method requires extensive pre-testing of the scheme (Franzosi 184). Grounded theory “uses a prescribed set of procedures for analyzing data and constructing a theoretical model” from the data (Leedy and Ormrod 154).

Main Results – The survey asked questions about library use, reasons for library use, using technology, finding information, and learning to use online resources. A total of 465 surveys were distributed and 329 were returned. From the surveys returned, 184 were from female patrons, 127 from male patrons, and 18 did not report gender. The data for this article are primarily taken from the 184 female respondents who reported ages between 18 and 79 years. Seventy-one percent of these reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher. The study uses some contrasting data from the men’s responses where appropriate. In terms of library use, out of the 184 respondents, 42% came to the library monthly, while 36% visited the library weekly. Sixty-two percent of respondents knew they could email the library and 72% knew that they could call the library with questions. As for reasons for library use, the most prominent response was to borrow books rather than buying them. The second most common reason for using the library related to children’s books and programming for children. Other common reasons for library use included research activities, using public computers, reading, use of services such as photocopying and tax forms, and to volunteer or tutor. The library was also used as a place of solitude, where women could find a place and time for themselves. The author compared the men’s results to the women’s responses, and found that coming to the library for books was lower on the list, and very few men mentioned children’s library services. Men came to the library more often than women to study or read.

In terms of using technology, the female respondents were fairly tech-savvy. Seventy-four percent of respondents felt comfortable using computers. Only 5% replied that using computers meant more work for them. Eighty-two percent said they used a computer on a regular basis, and 98% reported that they had used the Internet. Out of those who use the Internet, 91% used it at home, 64% used it at work, and 34% used it at the public library. Ninety-eight percent of women who used the Internet used a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to find information. Topics frequently mentioned were medical and travel information, information for their children, and shopping. Men, by contrast, listed shopping and finding medical information as their second reason for using the internet. General research topics were most frequently cited by men.

Seven survey questions focused on finding information. The Internet was the number one choice for finding health information, sports scores, the date of Thanksgiving, and the phone number of their state Senator. The library was the first place to find a good book. Results indicated that although women use libraries to find information, they use the Internet more, as libraries were at least third on the list of places women looked for most of the topics inquired about.

When asked about their computer use, 71% of respondents said they used a computer to gain information for work, 74% said they used it for hobbies, and 81% used it to access medical information on the Internet. Sixty-five percent of respondents used email and chat to keep in touch with family and friends. 30% of the women asked felt that books were more valuable than using a computer. Forty-six percent reported that being able to ask a librarian for help was an appreciated service. The use of library technology figured in the survey. Seventy-two percent of respondents reported that they were comfortable using the online catalogue and 53% said they used the library’s webpage. Only 19% said they used the library’s databases. The comments section of the survey included evidence that the women either did not know these electronic resources existed, or they did not understand what databases are for. However, 47% said they had access to online databases from other sources, for example, higher education institutions, public schools, businesses.

Those who did use online databases were asked how they learned to use them. Sixteen percent were self-taught. Only a few had formal training, including 3% who were taught by a public library staff member. Sixty percent of respondents indicated they would like formal training: 23% preferred individual training, while 77% preferred training in a class setting.

The survey attempted to discern the value of participants’ library experience by using positive and negative critical incidents. The participants responded to questions about their best and worst experiences using the library. Best experiences included those involving books; children’s literature, programs, and family projects; library technology; access to non-print materials; the library as a place for solitude; other library services; and library staff. The negative experiences included library issues such as having to return books on time, getting an overdue notice or fine on an item already returned, and desired books being out of the library, noise in the library. The number of positive experiences reported was higher than the number of negative experiences.

Conclusions – Although definitive conclusions are difficult to make using qualitative analysis, Fidishun summarizes her findings by reporting that her study of women public library patrons found that technology features prominently in women’s lives, and that they regularly use the Internet to find information. However, many women were not aware of the databases available at the public library. Books were an important part of the library experience for these women, as were traditional library services, such as asking a librarian for help. Women often are the ones who bring children to the library and seek information for them. And the women surveyed valued the library as place.

Keywords


public library; women; technology; qualitative research

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