The American Library Association (ALA) and the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland College Park will gauge the quality of public access to the internet in our nation’s public libraries this summer. The speed test study is a supplement to a three-year National Leadership Grant to the ALA Office for Research & Statistics from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and is supported by the Association of Rural and Small Libraries, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, the Public Library Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.
As part of its E-rate Program modernization effort, the Federal Communications Commission is gathering a range of data to inform changes in the program and better understand library and school broadband needs. ALA and other library organizations are sharing researched gathered from libraries nationwide, but the quality of broadband access inside library and school buildings has emerged as a leading concern that demands attention.
“Strong Wi-Fi and internal broadband connections in libraries and schools are necessary to support individualized learning. We need to better understand this issue from a ‘front-line’ context,” said IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth. “I hope we will have broad library participation in this effort so that policy decisions will be well informed and can accommodate future broadband needs of library customers.”
The Digital Inclusion Survey piloted a voluntary speed test in fall 2013, with results provided by roughly 1,700 public libraries. The Urban Libraries Council also gathered data from a sample of their members earlier this year to submit as part of the FCC proceeding.
This new data collection effort will seek responses from a sample of about 1,000 libraries, while allowing any library to capture the broadband speed data for their advocacy use. No software needs to be downloaded, and libraries will be asked to run the speed test at least twice during open hours. “In addition to the federal E-rate program, state and local authorities often lack detail on library technology use and the infrastructure needed to support community digital inclusion efforts. Now is the time to increase awareness of the state of library broadband,” said Larra Clark, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) program director.
“We are well-positioned to leverage and complement this data to deepen our understanding of the quality of access—or actual broadband speeds—for public library users and not just the subscribed speed,” said John Carlo Bertot, lead survey researcher and iPAC co-director.
“We are grateful to IMLS and to all of our library partners for supporting this valuable addition to the overall study,” said Kathy Rosa, director of the ALA Office for Research and Statistics.
Libraries can log on at digitalinclusion.pnmi.com/speedtest before August 1 to capture data. Results from the speed test study will be published in September 2014, including a report and a public release data file.
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association 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.