Sustaining a Strong Democracy

Public libraries provide crucial access to computers and the Internet

Technology has become increasingly important, and the issue of a level playing field is particularly important in this regard. Although home computers and Internet service have gotten considerably less expensive in recent years than they were a decade ago, the fact remains that they are still a luxury that a sizeable segment of the population cannot afford. In 2003 (the most recent year for which data is available) 38.2% of Wisconsin households were without computers, and 45.3% of Wisconsin households were without Internet access. What was once a luxury has increasingly become a necessity, as many businesses, organizations, and individuals rely on websites and online resources. Certain job opportunities, events and programs, and other resources are primarily if not exclusively advertised and made available online, and libraries open the door for everyone to enjoy these opportunities even if they would be otherwise unable to afford to do so (p. 54).

library services allows for personal and professional development

The fact that so many materials are not only available, but available to be borrowed without paying a fee is of paramount importance. Many focus group participants noted that libraries "level the playing field." While many people of higher socioeconomic status routinely purchase books, subscribe to periodicals, and conduct their research online without ever visiting a library, many lower income individuals and families do not have that option. 21% of Wisconsin workers earn poverty level wages. Universal access is one of the most important strengths of the library. The availability of resources, technology, and educational opportunities provide everyone with the availability to improve themselves and their life circumstances. Even those patrons in higher income brackets need to prioritize their spending, and the fact is that even those who could afford to purchase more books and materials appreciate having a large collection available for checkout (p. 53).

public libraries support the domocratic nature of a society

Fitch and Warner (1998) found that public libraries assist local communities in supporting and encouraging the domocratic nature of a society by providing citizens with accessibility to information regardless of race, income, class, age, or gender. Equal information access for all is a primary component of the democratic process. (p.214)

Participating in community life

With the increasing use of the Internet and online media to support political and social activities and provide access to news and current events across the country, access to the Internet becomes an important component of community life. The study found that people use their library’s computers and Internet connection to organize or participate in community groups, volunteer, engage in political and social causes, and keep up with the news and current events.The actions enabled by access to the library computers for many users are perhaps even more important, ranging from finding funding sources or members for community groups to donating to political or social causes. As communities become more distributed and less based on geographic proximity, the library is helping those who might otherwise have no other access to online communities participate in an active way in our society.Overall, 33 percent of users (25.5 million people) used their public library’s computer and Internet resources to learn about social or political issues or to participate in community life. Of these users, 40 percent indicated they had undertaken activities in this area for a relative, friend, colleague, or someone else in the past year. (p. 131)
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