New library study: demand up for technology, budget cuts limit access
For Immediate Release
CHICAGO - A new national report shows that U.S. public libraries continue to expand as technology centers for communities, providing essential resources for job-seekers and support for critical e-government services. In addition, as the demand for e-books increases, libraries are the starting place for free downloads. However, budget cuts have forced libraries across the country to scale back drastically on operating hours and access to services, just when resources are most needed.
The 2011 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study reports that virtually all public libraries (99 percent) provide public access to computers and the Internet. More than 87 percent of libraries provide technology training, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) of libraries offer access to e-books, up 12 percent from two years ago.
Yet a pervasive “new normal” of increased demand for library technology resources, paired with decreased funding at state and local levels, is impacting service to millions of Americans, according to the report released today by the American Library Association (ALA).
“We’ve seen our libraries and communities struggle throughout this uneven economic recovery. Since the recession began, libraries have grappled with budget cuts and decreased hours, while users wait in lines before doors open, eager to use library computers or access Wi-Fi, get expert assistance for job search, and learn how to download e-books,” said ALA President Roberta Stevens. “We want patrons --and policymakers-- to understand the dynamic resources available at today's library and keep those resources funded. Let's make sure that our investment in libraries yields its full potential.”
While 70 percent of libraries report increased use of public computers, and more than half of libraries report an increase in use of electronic resources, 55 percent of urban libraries report operating budget decreases during the current fiscal year, followed by suburban (36 percent) and rural (26 percent) libraries. At the same time, 16 percent of libraries report decreased operating hours, a jump from 4.5 percent just two years ago. For the third year, the greatest impact was experienced by those living in urban communities; nearly 32 percent of urban libraries report reduction of open hours, up from 23.7 percent last year.
Not surprisingly, libraries report again that services for job-seekers rate as the most important public Internet service provided to the community.
More than 74 percent of libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and 72 percent of libraries report that staff helped patrons complete online job applications. Yet, 56 percent of libraries report they do not have enough staff to effectively assist job-seekers.
Increasingly, as government agencies eliminate print forms and close satellite offices, public libraries are the front lines, connecting people with essential e-government resources.
Nearly 68 percent of libraries report that staff provided assistance in completing government forms, and one-quarter of all libraries partnered with government agencies and non-profit organizations to provide e-government services. An Oklahoma library director reports that a major employer no longer distributes printed W-2s to employees. Since only a small percentage of residents have Internet access at home, employees had to depend on library computers and printers to retrieve the forms.
The proliferation of e-books marks a milestone in public libraries; the number of libraries that offer e-books has increased almost 30 percent since 2007.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in people coming to the library with their e-readers, eager to learn how to use it with the library e-book collection. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our expansion into digital services. As a technology hub for our 26 communities, we make sure to feature a wide range of resources for users,” said Contra Costa County Library (Calif.) Deputy County Librarian, Cathy Sanford.
“Millions of Americans each year go to their public libraries to seek educational resources, government services, employment information, and opportunities to improve their lives,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “As libraries struggle to meet the growing needs of their communities, against the pressure of significant financial constraints, it is crucial that both public and private partners consider how they can help libraries sustain the critical services they offer.”
Conducted by the ALA and the Information Policy & Access Center at the University of Maryland, this year’s study builds on the largest study of Internet connectivity in public libraries that began in 1994. The study functions as an annual “state of the library” report on the technology resources brokered by our libraries and the funding that enables free public access to these resources.
The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ALA, can be found online at www.ala.org/plinternetfunding.
Slideshow graphics and additional resources available in Press Kit.
The American Library Association (ALA) is an advocate for the freedom to read and to access all forms of library materials. With more than 61,000 members, the ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world and represents all types of libraries and library staff. Its mission is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. http://www.ala.org
The Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at University of Maryland College Park conducts research that focuses on the processes, practices, policies, and social issues that govern access to information in our increasingly digital information society. iPAC is committed to studying what policies and/or technologies lead to equitable and inclusive information access, a digitally literate population, an informed and engaged public, or access Internet-enabled resources and technologies. http://ipac.umd.edu
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health with vaccines and other life-saving tools and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to significantly improve education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. http://www.gatesfoundation.org
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