Public libraries are community anchors that address economic, education, and health disparities in the community. Educational programs, print and digital books, databases, meeting spaces, and instruction on how to use new technologies are among the many resources and services provided by libraries. More than two-thirds of Americans agree that libraries are important because they improve the quality of life in a community, promote literacy and reading, and provide many people with a chance to succeed.
One role of the library as a community anchor is to provide equitable access to technology and digital content. A comprehensive approach to creating digital inclusion will ensure an equal opportunity for all, regardless of geographic location, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.
The Digital Inclusion Survey found that public libraries address these disparities by providing free access to broadband, public access technologies, digital content, digital literacy learning opportunities, and a range of programming that helps build digitally inclusive communities.
The survey found that nearly all (97.5%) public libraries offer free wireless internet access. Technology training is offered in nearly all (98.0%) public libraries, and nearly all offer education and learning programs (99.5%) and summer reading programs (98.4%). Almost 80% of libraries offer programs that aid patrons with job applications, interview skills, and résumé development. Three-fourths of libraries offer community, civic engagement, or e-government programs. Nearly all libraries offer patrons assistance in completing online government forms.
Chief Officers of State Library Agencies survey
To gain a better understanding of how public libraries are faring in the face of funding challenges, flat budgets, and the need to supplement the nation’s educational needs, the American Library Association conducts an annual survey on state library support.
Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) members are the heads of their state library administrative agencies and leaders in statewide library development. The chief officers responded to the ALA’s online survey between October 28, 2014, and December 3, 2014. The report highlights changes in support for public library funding on a state level, reductions and closures, state collaborations, and broadband planning.
The ALA received responses from 47 of 50 states and from the District of Columbia; the West Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York State library agencies did not respond. The following is a short summary of some of the interesting points from the survey.
Direct aid to public libraries. For states that provide direct state aid for public libraries, 45% reported no change from FY2014, 21% reported increased funding, and 17% reported decreased funding from FY2014, with Missouri and Alabama reporting cuts of 9%–10% or more.
The chief officers felt cautious about predicting changes in direct funding for public libraries; 44% felt state aid for public libraries would remain unchanged and 46% felt that it was too soon to tell whether the funding would increase or decrease.
Branch closures. The number of states reporting library branch closures is down, from 10 states reporting knowledge of closures to only five this year. As in previous years, the number of closures in each state was between one and five libraries.
Libraries involved in collaborations and digital literacy. Many state library agencies have formal collaborations with other state agencies. Twenty states currently have statewide partnerships related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education; other states have collaborations to assist with other education initiatives, workforce development, literacy, and summer reading.
Though only 38% of state library agencies reported having a specific goal related to digital literacy through their local libraries, they did indicate a heavy involvement in digital literacy initiatives.
Helping meet America’s broadband needs. Fifty-seven percent of responding states have state-specific broadband plans. The public libraries or state library agencies in only five of those 27 states are not involved in meeting those goals.