What Brings Gen Z to the Library?

Updating library spaces is critical to accommodate the changing needs and interests of patrons. Find out what appeals to Gen Zers when it comes to libraries.

Recent research offers insight into Gen Z‘s behaviors and needs in the library environment.

Gen Z, born between the years of 1997 and 2012, is considered the first generation of “digital natives.” According to the Los Angeles Times, this generation spends an average of 7.2 hours a day consuming video content, which is nearly half of someone’s waking hours if one assumes a person is also getting eight hours of sleep on a daily basis.

Most of this media is consumed through social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and streaming video services. Online video has become part of Gen Z’s daily life. With such a high daily dose of media consumption, it might be surprising to learn that Gen Zers are visiting the library at higher rates than previous generations and prefer print materials.

2023 report released by the American Library Association reveals that 54 percent of the Gen Z (and Millennial) survey participants have used a physical library in the last twelve months. A notable 17 percent of Gen Zers who did not physically visit the library reported that they used the library’s digital services. Of the 54 percent who have physically used a public library, none self-identify as readers. This raises the question: What are some of the things that bring Gen Z to the library?


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6 Reasons Gen Zers Use the Library

  1. Digital Resources and Technology. Gen Zers and Millennials report that, on average, they purchase one audiobook and one e-book per month. The library can support the Gen Z patron by providing free access to e-books and audiobooks.
  2. Print Resources. ALA’s 2023 report reveals that print books are Gen Z’s preferred book format. It also indicates that the younger a Gen Zer is, the more print books they buy. Gen Zers purchase an average of two print books per month and really enjoy browsing the shelves for printed materials.
  3. Research and Homework Help. Gen Zers can visit the reference desk if they need assistance with research for school. Additionally, libraries often offer free tutoring resources that Gen Z might benefit from.
  4. Social Connection. Libraries often provide flexible spaces that encourage Gen Z to connect with peers. Gen Z patrons can share group study rooms and attend library programs. College libraries often have cafes where Gen Zers can grab a quick bite before hitting the books. Libraries also provide free wifi access to patrons and loanable devices that can aid Gen Z in making connections with others in digital spaces. It’s human nature to want to foster social connections, and the library offers a free space to build community.
  5. Study. Gen Z prefers flexible seating arrangements to study and complete academic work. Students like having access to group study rooms to collaborate with peers and using quieter areas for individual work. Noise zones can help make it easier for library patrons to identify which library spaces are suitable for group collaboration and which areas can support quiet study.
  6. Tech Breaks. Gen Zers want access to the latest tech, but they also want to be able to disconnect from screens. Gen Z uses devices for personal and academic use, and the library offers a suitable environment for young patrons to unplug and wind down instead of searching the internet for resources. Gen Z might benefit from library-hosted programs that inform young patrons about the benefits of utilizing tech breaks, which promote mental well-being. Tech breaks can also aid in preventing tech burnout, a state of extreme exhaustion and stress triggered by too much tech use.


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Closing Thoughts

As generations continue to evolve, so does library patron culture. Emily Winter, a researcher at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, sought to answer the question: How does Gen Z study?

Winter observed that Gen Z “nested” and turned workspaces into makeshift dens with cuddly toys and blankets. Gen Zers engaged in “blending”—moving through multiple activities in the library space (e.g., eating, drinking, socializing, using tech, using library resources, etc.). Winters also discovered that Gen Z (i.e., students) enjoyed working alone but in public spaces.

According to ALA’s 2023 report, Gen Zers are also aware of creator economies; some Gen Zers will opt to use special library spaces to produce creator content. Stanford-affiliated research from 2022 indicates that Gen Z values diversity, is highly collaborative, and prefers nonhierarchical leadership.

The Gen Z library functions more like a bustling community space than the stereotypical quiet space of solitude and study. In 2021, Julie A. Powell, a professor of sport management at Union University, and Amber C. Wessies, an instruction librarian at Union University, have discussed how libraries create a culture of hospitality that engages and retains Gen Z patrons.

Libraries can achieve this, in part, by constantly working toward removing barriers to their collections and services and making sure that Gen Z continues to feel understood and cared for by their library. This can be accomplished by ensuring that physical spaces, library policies, collections, and best practices strive to be inclusive, accessible, and represent the needs and interests of Gen Z patrons.


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