Just published: Information searches that solve problems. How people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help..
There's a great deal of interesting reading in this report by Leigh Esterbrook (Prof. Emerita, Univ. of Illinois), Evans Witt and Lee Rainie. One table records the "Sources for Help in Dealing with a Specific Problem" from which we find that the Internet has the highest proportion of users:
Use the internet - 58%
Ask professional advisors, such as doctors, lawyers or financial experts - 53%
Ask friends and family members - 45%
Use newspapers, magazines and books - 36%
Contact a government office or agency - 34%
Use television and radio - 16%
Go to a public library - 13%
Use another source not mentioned already - 11%
Particularly interesting is that while only 42% did NOT use the Internet for information on specific problems, 87% did NOT use the public library. So, while public libraries may still serve important functions in their communities, it seems that the answering of specific problems has not become so firmly established as to enable that function to persist in the age of the Internet. It may have something to do with the fact that on the Internet one can find not only information but also advice from trusted sources (e.g., on health problems), while public librarians have always steered away from offering advice, or in most cases, serving as a venue for advisory services offered by other agencies.
Whatever the ultimate outcome in the future of the public library, it seems that the answering of specific problems is unlikely to be part of that future.