The Pew Internet & American Life Project, which produces reports that examine the impact of the Internet on families and communities, conducted the study in the form of a national phone survey in partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More than 2,790 adults were surveyed, ages 18 and older.
Respondents were asked about their encounters with issues related to the government or government-provided information in the past two years. The issues include illnesses and health concerns, enrolling in and paying for school, tax matters, changing jobs or starting a business, voter registration, local community matters, legal matters, and immigration matters, as well as obtaining information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps and obtaining information about Social Security or military benefits.
The Pew Internet study found that 58% of Americans that have dealt with one of those issues used the Internet to seek help. Fifty-three percent said they consulted professionals such as doctors, lawyers, or financial experts; 45% turned to friends and family for advice; 36% used newspapers and magazines as resources; and 34% directly contacted a government agency. Only 16% of Americans said they consulted television and radio for help, and 13% went to a public library.
Despite the low percentage of Americans consulting public libraries, the study asserted that the younger population aged 18 to 30, tagged as the "tech-loving" Generation Y, was most likely to use libraries to get problem-solving information and for general purposes. In their lives, libraries are not losing value. In fact, 40% of Generation Y respondents said they would use libraries in the future to seek information, compared with 20% of those age 30 and older.
A major reason for Generation Y's patronage of public libraries is the fact that they are well equipped with computers and Internet access. In the Pew Internet study, 65% of respondents said a key reason for going to a library for problem-solving was access to computers and the Internet.
The Internet, however, is not a resource that always produces the most satisfactory answers to issues. Sixty-five percent of those who approached the government directly for help said they were very successful and 64% that went to a public library were very successful. Sixty-three percent of those who used the Internet said they were very successful.