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Gen Z and millennials are 'discovering' the public library and falling in love with the process

They are going back to the public libraries and falling in love with the process of reading, borrowing and sense of community.

Gen Z and millennials are 'discovering' the public library and falling in love with the process
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Ivo Rainha; American Library Association | Rachel Noorda

We all might have enjoyed the smell of old books in school libraries and the joy of finding new interesting ones in big piles. Many might think that young people are moving away from libraries and are more eager to use e-books. However, that is not true. Research from the American Library Association reveals that public libraries are experiencing a resurgence, with Gen Z and millennials leading the charge. Over half of the 43 percent of GenZ and millennials, who do not even identify as readers, have surprisingly been visiting local libraries in the last 12 months. The report was published in November 2023.

Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

More than half of the 2075 Gen Z and millennials surveyed in 2022, over half of them self-reported visiting a public library and borrowing from a library's digital collection. Rachel Noorda, one of the authors of the research from Portland State University, said, "Great news: Younger generations of people are reading books, buying books and visiting libraries. Not only are Gen Z and millennials engaging with books, but they are also engaging with other forms of media. They are gamers, readers, writers and fans who are comfortable with malleability between media categories and forms."

These libraries are not just about books for these generations. "We traditionally think of libraries as very quiet and parts of them are, but what we observed watching Gen Z in libraries is that there are some great spaces for teens, big rooms where they can do things like gaming or making their music," Noorda told The Guardian. "It's a place to be solitary, but also a place to build community."

Henry Grey Earls—who goes by @henry_grey_earls on TikTok—an art student in NYC, posts videos of studying, journaling or reading in front of the Bryant Park library's beaux-arts background. His videos garnered millions of views. He said, "I think people my age are craving something more authentic and looking for something real. What's more real than books and physical material?" Though many youngsters use digital copies of books, hard copies look great on social media. Kathi Inman Berens, co-author of the ALA study, said, "You need book materiality, a printed book, something that helps visually."

Image Source: TikTok | @henry_greay_earls
Image Source: TikTok | @henry_greay_earls

It is said that youngsters lack "third place," which is a coined term by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. It is a space separate from home and work for gathering and socialization. Anika Neumeyer, 19, a volunteer at the Seattle Public Library, told the outlet that coffee shops get so crowded and they need to spend money to be there while libraries are open for everybody. "There's a lot less pressure to be doing something in the public library. No one's going to judge you."

Abby Hargreaves, a librarian in Washington DC—who goes by @24hourlibrary on TikTok—posts about her job regularly. She thinks that GenZ tends to romanticize the position. "There's this idea of 'I'll go to my library and have some great adventure while I'm there,'" Hargreaves said. "But then we also see people who are looking to tear libraries down, whether that's through budget cuts or legislated book bans."

Image Source: Pexels | Sherman Trotz
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Sherman Trotz

On one hand, there are several library-related bills, including Idaho's legislature, to restrict material inappropriate for minors and allow family members to file $2500 lawsuits against libraries that go against this law and on the other, GenZ's newfound love for libraries. Anna Murphy, an upper school librarian at the Berkeley Caroll School in Brooklyn, said, "It's so strange when you hear 'Oh, Gen Z loves libraries' or when the algorithm keeps feeding you videos of beautiful libraries, but then there's no more Sunday service and you have to wait weeks for your book to come. The library love and hate seem to exist in two different universes."

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