Libraries and technology

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Libraries, the Internet, and how they use it

Use of Internet/website

# of libraries reporting

% of libraries

Total number of libraries



Libraries that have website



Website features



   OPAC/on-line catalogue



   On-line reference services



   Library purchased on-line database



   Personalized patron account



Website content



   Programming information/events calendar



   Children/young adult pages



   Community links



   Library friends’ page(s)



   Basic library information (hours, etc.)



   Library staff created content (booklists, etc.)



   Wireless Internet access



   Wireless extending outside the library



Filtered Internet access



   Filtered by staff



   Filtered by patron



Access to locally produced digitized collections



Virtual reference services by



   E-mail/Web form






   Instant messaging



Source: Public Library Data Service 2009 Report. Chicago, Public Library Association, 2009.


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Technology plays an ever larger role in the modern library

Technology is a major component in the modern public library that has become almost indispensible in numerous aspects (see Table 1, above), according to the Public Library Data Service 2009 Report.

Surprisingly, fewer libraries reported having a website in 2009 (92.4 percent) than in last year’s report (98.2 percent). There was also a slight decrease in the number of those reporting “yes” to the presence of particular features on their websites including online catalogues, online reference services, online databases, and personalized patron accounts, although all were present the majority of the time. The most common website content included programming information, events calendars, and basic library information such as hours of operation and location. Other website content such as children/young adult pages, community links, library staff–created content, and library Friends’ pages were also present the majority of the time.

When Internet access was filtered, the filtering was generally performed by the library staff. For 57.8 percent of reporting libraries, Internet access was filtered by staff, while only 10.3 percent of libraries allowed patron control of Internet filtering. These numbers are not exclusive in that a library may allow filter control by both staff and patrons.

Libraries continue to recognize the importance of expanding technology services in some areas. While wireless Internet access remained about the same at 88.22 percent, libraries with wireless Internet access extending outside the library increased to 46.03 percent. To meet the needs of an increasingly online society, libraries continue to increase reference services in virtual modalities. Chat services remained about the same at 31.4 percent, but instant messaging at 19.5 percent and email/Web forms at 62.1 percent both saw increases in usage over last year for providing virtual reference services to patrons.

Access to locally produced digitized content remained essentially the same at 43.6 percent.

(The Public Library Data Service (PLDS) is an annual survey conducted on behalf of the Public Library Association (PLA) in which public libraries from the United States and Canada have provided information on finances, library resources, annual use figures, technology, and additional yearly special categories. The results of this survey are published by the PLA and available as both an online subscription database and yearly print report.)


Public libraries see huge growth in Internet services

Public libraries have seen double-digit growth since 2007 in the Internet services they make available to their patrons, and more than 71 percent provide their community’s only free public access to computers and the Internet, Denise M. Davis, Norman Rose, and Larra Clark wrote in the November 2009 issue of American Libraries. The number of libraries offering homework resources in 2009 was almost 80 percent, while 73 percent offered audio content, 62 percent virtual reference, 55 percent e-books, and 51 percent video content.

The authors’ data are drawn from responses to the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study and its predecessor Public Libraries and the Internet.

Wireless access in public libraries continues to grow, increasing from about 54 percent in 2007 to 82.2 percent in 2010, and even libraries in the smallest communities are using this option to increase access for their patrons. However, almost two-thirds of rural libraries report supporting wireless and dedicated Internet access on the same telecommunications network rather than separating them or using bandwidth-management techniques. Thus, increased capacity to serve those with wireless devices may also lead to increased congestion on the library’s Internet thoroughfare. Connection speeds also tend to be much lower at rural libraries than at their urban counterparts.

Not surprisingly, library staff play a key role in helping people become successful technology users. Thirty-five percent of libraries offer formal technology training classes, and 53 percent provide point-of-use assistance. Urban libraries are more likely than rural libraries to offer classes (52.5 percent and 24 percent, respectively), while public libraries in smaller communities are more likely to provide informal (point-of-use) and online training.

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Foundations and federal government support increased digital access

A $3.3-million initiative by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will expand digital access and training through local libraries in 12 U.S. communities. The grants will include funding for mobile computer labs, multilingual technology teachers, a job center, and wireless access nodes. The effort comes on the heels of sweeping recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

Libraries are vital actors on this stage [of public access to information],” according to the commission, which was funded by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the Knight Foundation. “. . . Public libraries increasingly emphasize civic and media training and serve as key centers for community dialogue. Yet, public libraries are typically strapped for resources. . . . As tax revenues dwindle, many libraries are having to cut hours and programs just when they are most needed.”

Gates Foundation support—The ALA in June received a $2 million, three-year grant renewal from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue its Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study. Denise Davis, director of the ALA Office for Research and Statistics, will remain as project director, and John Carlo Bertot, director of the University of Maryland Center for Library and Information Innovation, will continue to manage the Public Libraries and the Internet survey as part of the study.

The Gates Foundation also committed nearly $3.4 million in grants Dec. 1 to bolster Internet connections for libraries in Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia and announced partnerships with 14 other states to help public libraries compete for federal broadband stimulus funds. Nationally, libraries report that patron demand for high-speed Internet access is growing faster than their ability to provide increased bandwidth. The ALA study Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008–2009 reports that 60 percent of all libraries say their current Internet speed is insufficient.

Federal stimulus grants—Libraries in six states (Arizona, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) were among the beneficiaries of the first round of awards from the $7.2-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act broadband grant and loan programs, according to American Libraries Online (Dec. 21, 2009). The awards comprise $121.6 million for projects that connect communities to broadband services; $51.4 million for projects that connect end users such as homes, schools, libraries, or businesses to the community broadband services; $7.3 million for public computing; and $2.4 million for sustainable adoption of broadband services.


Organizations form a broad-based broadband coalition

Representatives of schools, libraries, schools, health care providers, and other organizations in June launched the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition to highlight their need for high-capacity and affordable broadband connections. A key goal is enhancement of the quality and availability of essential services to the public and to underserved populations. The ALA is a member organization.

“The Internet has become a fundamental cornerstone of modern education, learning, health care delivery, economic growth, social interaction, job training, government services, and the dissemination of information and free speech,” John Windhausen, Jr., an education consultant and coordinator of the coalition, said.

Lynne Bradley, director of the ALA Office of Government Relations, said, “Libraries promote demand for broadband by providing the training on information literacy and introducing people to the multitude of services and opportunities available through broadband connectivity. Libraries also promote adoption of broadband services as the public learns that broadband is a means to an end—full participation in our information economy.”

Electronic materials replacing print on campus—At college and research libraries, the trend from print materials to electronic materials continues apace, especially at institutions that offer graduate degrees, Thane Kerner, president and chief operating officer of Silverchair, an information consulting firm, wrote on a company blog in October 2009

And a new ECAR study on students and technology found that nearly 90 percent of students come to college with a laptop now, and an even higher percentage (94.6 percent) use the library’s website at least once a week. The percentage of students who reported using the library’s website daily increased from 7.1 percent in 2006 to 16.9 percent in 2009.

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Books on demand (and other digital developments)

Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that traditional book publishing decreased in 2008 by 3.2 percent, with 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 that were published in 2007. But despite this decline, Bowker projects that 285,394 on-demand books were produced in 2008, a staggering 132 percent increase over last year’s final total of 123,276 titles.

E-book circulation expanding—About 5,400 public libraries now offer e-books, as well as digitally downloadable audiobooks. But circulation is expanding quickly. The number of checkouts had grown to more than 1 million by October 2009 from 607,275 in all of 2007, according to OverDrive. NetLibrary has seen circulation of e-books and digital audiobooks rise 21 percent over the past year. But some publishers, such as Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, refrain from distributing their e-books to public libraries, the New York Times reported in October 2009.

Largest digital collection?—The Library of Congress is on the way to hosting the largest digital collection in the world. So far, the LOC has more than 50 million individual files—a total of 700 terabytes (700,000,000,000,000 bytes) of data. But because of copyright issues, only 200 terabytes are available on the Web, according to the Voice of America News.

No more CATNYP in New York—The New York Public Library’s new public catalog debuted July 6, 2009, capping three years of development. Representing for the first time the library’s combined circulating, reference, and research holdings, the new system—called The Catalog and using modules of the Innovative Interfaces Millennium system—unites the previously separate collections of the Branch Libraries, formerly found in LEO, and the Research Libraries, formerly found in CATNYP, into a single search interface.



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