CHICAGO — Libraries continue to transform lives by providing critical services and innovative solutions to information access in spite of years’ worth of consecutive and cumulative budget cuts. More Americans than ever are turning to their libraries for access to essential technology services not found elsewhere in their communities, including free computer and Internet access, technology training and assistance with job-seeking and e-government services.
“U.S. Public Libraries Weather the Storm (PDF),” a new issues brief from the American Library Association Office for Research & Statistics, highlights how strategic vision has helped public libraries not only “weather the storm” of the Great Recession, but also advance their role as a lifeline to the technology resources and training essential to building digitally inclusive communities essential to full participation in the nation’s economy.
“Libraries are continually evolving to support the diverse information and training needs of their communities,” said Kathy Rosa, director of the ALA Office for Research & Statistics. “Over 60 percent of public libraries report increased use of computers and Wi-Fi, and 36 percent report an increase in participation in technology classes. More than 96 percent of libraries report providing help accessing online government services, an increase of nearly 16 percent from last year. At the same time, 57 percent of libraries report flat or decreased operating budgets, straining their capacity to meet the demand for services.”
Libraries continue to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in their communities. Some of the highly innovative services described in the report include:
- Creative technology incubators such as the Maker Station at the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library, where do-it-yourselfers share sophisticated tools and expertise. “Maker spaces” allow users to collaborate and create, expanding the parameters of information access at the library.
- The application of QR (Quick Response) codes by the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Library delivers instant access to library materials and services to cardholders with a mobile phone. More public libraries are adopting mobile technology to increase community interaction, enhance access to services and improve channels for information dissemination.
- To help local businesses gain a competitive edge, the Library System of Lancaster County (Pa.) offers the MarketEdge Competitive Intelligence Certification Program, which teaches people to perform effective competitor research. In effect, libraries are serving as small business incubators, providing a wide range of support including assistance for business plan development and current legal and financial databases.
“U.S. Public Libraries Weather the Storm (PDF)” was jointly authored with the University of Maryland Information Policy and Access Center. The issues brief draws from national data published in the 2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study (PLFTAS), the longest-running and largest study of Internet connectivity in libraries and the funding that enables free public access to these resources. The study is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association.
Library staffs are encouraged to use content from the issues brief and the PLFTAS report as an educational tool with community stakeholders, including elected officials, funders and program partners to raise awareness of the innovative services available and in demand in their own communities. Staff can use this format as a template for providing local data and examples related to a given topic. PLFTAS issues briefs can be accessed and downloaded at http://www.ala.org/research/initiatives/plftas/issuesbriefs.
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 60,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. http://www.ala.org