WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - More than half of Americans visited a library in the past year with many of them drawn in by the computers rather than the books, according to a survey released on Sunday.
Of the 53 percent of U.S. adults who said they visited a library in 2007, the biggest users were young adults aged 18 to 30 in the tech-loving group known as Generation Y, the survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project said.
"These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down," said Leigh Estabrook, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois and co-author of a report on the survey results.
"Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are most likely to visit libraries," she said.
Internet users were more than twice as likely to patronize libraries as non-Internet users, according to the survey.
More than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups said they used computers while at the library.
Sixty-five percent of them looked up information on the Internet while 62 percent used computers to check into the library's resources.
Public libraries now offer virtual homework help, special gaming software programs, and some librarians even have created characters in the Second Life virtual world, Estabrook said. Libraries also remain a community hub or gathering place in many neighborhoods, she said.
The survey showed 62 percent of Generation Y respondents said they visited a public library in the past year, with a steady decline in usage according to age. Some 57 percent of adults aged 43 to 52 said they visited a library in 2007, followed by 46 percent of adults aged 53 to 61; 42 percent of adults aged 62 to 71; and just 32 percent of adults over 72.
"We were surprised by these findings, particularly in relation to Generation Y," said Lee Rainie, co-author of the study and director of the Pew project. In 1996 a survey by the Benton Foundation found young adults saw libraries becoming less relevant in the future.
"Scroll forward 10 years and their younger brothers and sisters are now the most avid library users," Rainie said.
The survey of 2,796 Americans was conducted by telephone from late June through early September and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. It was funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, an agency that offers federal support for U.S. libraries and museums.
(Reporting by Julie Vorman; Editing by Bill Trott)
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