SUTTONS BAY — Most of them opt for DVDs or teen thrillers in Suttons Bay. In Elk Rapids, they crowd in for the free WiFi.
But wherever they are, millennials seem to be big users of their public libraries.
“To me, what I see with the millennial crowd is they’re much more thrifty, money savvy, and apt to use things like libraries,” said Bradley Chaplin, director of the Suttons Bay-Bingham District Library. “I think they’re looking for a more economical way to get the entertainment they need.”
A 2017 Pew Research Center survey names millennials — aged 23 to 38, as of 2019 — as the biggest adult users of libraries. About 53 percent of those youngish adults checked something out in the 12-month survey period, compared to 45 percent of Gen Xers, 43 percent of Baby Boomers and 36 percent of the preceding Silent Generation.
The survey focused specifically on public libraries, not on-campus or academic resources.
Young adults also are bigger users of library websites — four in 10 millennials utilized one in the survey period, compared with about 2 in 10 Boomers.
Local libraries have seen an uptick in millennial users in recent years, though higher populations of retirees skews the numbers a bit.
“I think Suttons Bay is a bit of an anomaly because there’s not much of a millennial population up here,” Chaplin said. “I think the higher cost of living here keeps millennials out of the area.”
Suttons Bay’s average bookworm is 54 or older, he said, and most readers young enough to fall into the millennial category stop in with their children.
Pew’s survey backs the anecdote — millennial parents surveyed were more likely library users than those without children.
“We have a story hour and that always has a good turnout — those moms are in that age range,” said Nannette Miller, director of the Elk Rapids Library.
Suttons Bay and Traverse Area District Library staffers see similar crowds of millennial parents.
“That’s one of the things libraries do best — the early literacy programs, access to books,” said Matt Wiliford, Traverse Area District Library marketing and communications manager. “We’re one of the main resources in the community for that.”
Non-parent millennials aren’t a negligible group, though.
Of Elk Rapids’ 3,258 library card holders, about 350 fall into the 23-38 age range, Miller said.
But most young adults she sees come in to use the library’s free WiFi and computers, services that don’t require a library card.
“(One staff member) said she sees people with laptops and phones on the WiFi a lot. Even sitting in their cars in the parking lot,” Miller said.
She said many millennials tend not to have home computers or printers, and will come in to utilize library equipment.
The Pew report suggests millennial turnout may be tied to the evolution of local libraries — in northern Michigan, many build up catalogs of digital media, music and even odder offerings, like instruments, cameras and projectors.
Wiliford sees the library becoming a workspace for younger adults, especially the thriftier members of coffee-shop crowds.
Computers and internet connection usage at libraries has also grown nationally, according to the report, and millennials flock to that and extra services like child literacy programs and one-time events.
“That’s why libraries have to adapt — the focus is not so much on books,” Miller said.
The welcoming nature and wide variety of services doesn’t hurt, either. It’s a shift, Wiliford said, toward supplying media to fit anyone’s lifestyle.
“Millennials grew up in a generation of downloading single tracks, streaming, not so much the acquisition of stuff,” he said. “And libraries are really well-situated to address that.”