Given the wide array of available entertainment options and the way we consume information, visits to the library may seem like an old-fashioned pastime. But according to a new Gallup poll, Americans took more trips to the library than to the movie theater in 2019.
The poll surveyed 1,025 adults throughout the United States who were asked how many times they participated in nine different leisure activities, including visiting a library, watching a movie, strolling through a museum, or attending a sporting event. Library visits came out on top as the favorite, with those surveyed visiting an average of 10.5 times annually. Movies were second with respondents heading to the cinema an average of 5.3 times throughout the year. The zoo came in last place with only 0.9 visits.
This is an update to a 2001 poll, which also had library visits as the favorite free-time activity with about the same average number of annual visits. Because digital reading is so prevalent now and the channels by which we consume information has increased, it’s surprising there’s been no dip in library attendance. Movie-going has seen a slight drop, while museums, live music events, and national or historic parks saw a small increase.
Taking age and income into account
Although it’s not the only determining factor, cost appears to play a part. Activities at the bottom of the list such as casinos, theme parks and zoos are typically expensive. Libraries are free, as are many of their available services like Wi-Fi, in addition to the endless amounts of books. A Pew Research Center study revealed that although many people visit libraries to check out reading material, 29% of surveyed Americans over the age of 16 use libraries for computers, internet and public Wi-Fi.
People between ages 30-49 were most likely to engage in leisure activities, according to the Gallup poll. This was perhaps because of "their relative youth combined with mid-life stability," Gallup's Justin McCarthy told Smithsonian. McCarthy also notes that libraries are typically visited most often by adults from low-income households and less often by adults from high-income households.
In this poll, the youngest age bracket — those who are 18 to 29 years old — visited the library the most. This could be because college students are in that group.
Gender and kids makes a difference for free-time activities. Women tended to visit libraries more than men, averaging 13.4 visits a year compared to 7.5 visits by guys. Men were often more likely to go to casinos, sporting events and national or historic parks.
Adults with children in the household were more likely to go to the movies than adults without. Women with kids went to the movies an average of 6.8 visits per year versus 4.7 times for men.
Regardless of the reasons people visit libraries, they're far from obsolete. Libraries have stood the test of time, which is good news for book lovers, those needing to drop in for internet use, or anyone just looking for some quiet time. If there was ever any doubt that libraries would simply fade away, research suggests that they’re not going anywhere any time soon.