Gen Z and Millennials Spark Library Revival: The Comeback Story!

In an era dominated by digital technology and instant gratification, the traditional library might seem like a relic of the past. However, there's a growing trend among millennials and Generation Z to return to the library, seeking more than just books. These younger generations are rediscovering the profound value that libraries offer in an increasingly digital world.

Libraries Making a Comeback: Gen Z and Millennials Lead

Libraries have long been regarded as sanctuaries of knowledge, housing vast collections of books, magazines, and other resources. For many, they evoke nostalgic memories of childhood visits, where the musty scent of old paper mingled with the excitement of discovering new worlds within the pages of a book. Yet, with the advent of e-books, audiobooks, and online resources, the relevance of physical libraries has been called into question.

A photo of two students studying at the library.
Photo Credit: Copyright Clearance Center

However, recent years have witnessed a remarkable resurgence in library usage among millennials and Gen Z.  Gen Z exhibits a notable affinity for public libraries, as highlighted in a recent  report by the American Library Association (ALA). Drawing from comprehensive ethnographic research and a 2022 survey, it's evident that both Gen Z and millennials engage with public libraries, both in-person and digitally, at markedly higher levels compared to older generations.

The survey, which gathered responses from 2,075 participants, revealed that over half had frequented a physical library within the preceding 12 months. Notably, a significant portion of these visitors—43% of Gen Z and millennials—do not classify themselves as avid readers.

However, despite this, approximately half of these non-readers still patronized their local library within the past year. Moreover, the report highlights that Black Gen Zers and millennials are particularly enthusiastic users of library services. Contrary to predictions of their demise, libraries are experiencing a renaissance, with younger demographics leading the way. What's driving this resurgence?

#BookTok: Where Viral Videos Revive Love for Libraries

Digital spaces such as #BookTok have ignited the flames of this library resurgence. #BookTok is a place for literary influencers to post their reviews on newly released material and help many authors—new and veteran—to up their sales thanks to creative and viral videos.

A side-by-side photo of Gen Z and Millenials doing #BookTok videos.
Photo Credit: The Influence Agency

Moreover, libraries provide a sense of community that is increasingly rare in our digitally connected yet socially fragmented world. Millennials and Gen Z, often criticized for their purportedly superficial online interactions, are seeking meaningful connections offline. Engage in a conversation with any young individual navigating online spaces, and inevitably, the topic of the "third place" will arise—a term coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in 1989. Much like attachment styles or imposter syndrome, the third place has transcended its academic origins to become a focal point of social media discourse. Distinct from the realms of home and work, it serves as a vital space for community gathering and social interaction. Examples commonly cited include bars, coffee shops, churches, and, notably, libraries.

For Gen Z, the recognition of the dwindling availability of these third places, particularly amidst the blurred boundaries of work and home during the Covid era, is palpable. Anika Neumeyer, a 19-year-old English student who volunteers at the Seattle Public Library, articulates this sentiment, stating, "Coffee shops get so crowded, and you have to spend money to be there, but libraries are open for everyone. There’s a lot less pressure to be doing something in the public library. No one’s going to judge you." Whether attending book clubs, participating in workshops, or simply striking up conversations with fellow patrons, young people are finding genuine human connections in the heart of their local libraries.

Libraries Become Safe Spaces for Gen Z and Millennials

Libraries stand out as one of the last remaining sanctuaries where individuals can simply exist without expectation. They offer a refuge where one can truly be themselves. However, in 2018, librarian and academic Fobazi Ettarh introduced the concept of "vocational awe," which posits that libraries are perceived as intrinsically virtuous and beyond reproach, potentially resulting in the exploitation of library workers. Abby Hargreaves, a librarian based in the Washington DC area with a TikTok following of 48,000, observes a tendency among Gen Z to idealize the profession. Being able to be a patron of library and see the wonder is much different from the employee who is worried about new legislation that could end libraries’ existence.

A high-angle shot of three students studying at the library.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Furthermore, libraries are evolving to meet the changing needs of younger generations. Recognizing the importance of technology in contemporary life, many libraries now offer state-of-the-art amenities such as high-speed internet access, computer labs, and digital media studios. These resources empower patrons to develop digital literacy skills, pursue creative projects, and access online information in a safe and supportive environment.

Libraries are also embracing innovation in programming to appeal to younger demographics. From maker spaces equipped with 3D printers and coding workshops to gaming tournaments and live music performances, libraries are transforming into dynamic hubs of creatvity and exploration. By providing engaging experiences beyond traditional book lending, libraries are attracting millennials and Gen Z who crave opportunities for hands-on learning and cultural enrichment.

As #booktok was previously mentioned, and the multitude of reasons why people visit the library that have nothing to do with books, another notable reason is strictly for content’s sake. According to an article on The Guardian, an 18-year-old TikToker by the name of Marwa Medjahed says, “A lot of my followers find libraries appealing in an aesthetic way. They feel like I’m enjoying studying, rather than being in a bleak dorm room with harsh lighting.”

The resurgence of libraries among millennials and Generation Z represents a cultural shift towards a more balanced and meaningful relationship with information and technology. By returning to the library, these younger generations are rediscovering the joy of reading, forging genuine connections, and shaping a future where the printed word continues to hold sway amidst the digital deluge. As they turn the pages of history, millennials and Gen Z are writing a new chapter for the library, one that promises to endure for generations to come.

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