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Maryland Public Libraries as a desirable community asset

Happily, 42 percent gave public libraries an "A", ranking us at the top of local public services that included police and public safety, parks and recreation, public schools, social service, roads and mass transit, and local government efficiency. Marylanders told us that, next to public green space (parks), they ranked public libraries as the most desired community asset.

Libraries' increasingly important role as a technology provider

A majority of public libraries, 67%, report that they are the only free source of computer and Internet access for the communities they serve.

Mixed method research design employed by the U.S. IMPACT studies to develop and validate performance indicators related specifically to the outcomes of public access computing (PAC)

Through the use of a nationwide telephone survey, library case studies, and a nationwide Internet survey of public access computing patrons, this approach will generate generalizable quantitative data on the extent and distribution of the use of public access computing resources, as well as provide rich contextual data that will help in the understanding of how patrons use the computer and Internet connections in public libraries and the impact it has on their lives. Further, the mixed methods approach will allow for the examination of external factors that may influence patron outcomes, including the level library services and funding, community perceptions, and the availability of alternative modes of free access to computers and the Internet.

The value of the UK's public library service in providing leisure opportunities from a user point of view

The benefits go far beyond simply enjoyment and amusement, to being an essential form of relaxation for some people, helping to relieve stress, providing a break from the pressures of everyday life, and assisting others with the treatment of an illness. (p.138) The opportunities offered by libraries, in addition to providing access to books and other recreational materials such as videos, further enhance people's leisure time by giving them the chance to socialize and by providing access to activities many others in society take for granted because they can afford them. (p.139)

Added value to homes and neighborhoods

Homes within ¼ mile of a Library are worth, on average, $9,630 more than homes more than ¼ mile from a Library. For homes between ¼ and ½ mile of a Library, the additional value is $650.Libraries are responsible for $698 million in home values in Philadelphia. That’s an increase in home values that homeowners can borrow against to finance education, home improvements and other types of spending.The additional home values generated by proximity to a Library produce an additional $18.5 million in property taxes to the City and School District each year. Under a scenario of accurate and timely assessments, this is how much property tax revenue could be lost per year if all libraries were closed.

Building and maintaining social connections

Computers and the Internet have radically changed how people communicate and socialize with one another, express themselves, seek help for problems, and learn about their family histories. Recent research has pointed out secondary effects which have may have downstream results affecting the users and their families who engage in social activities using computers in libraries and other public places. Milner (2009) found that, “Internet users reported an easier social life than non-users, and a stronger awareness of important current affairs. They also tended to have higher self confidence than non-users.” Immigrant communities may also use public access computers to help keep their families together (Parkinson 2005).Social activities are an important component of many users’ interaction with library computer and Internet services, providing an entry point into more practical uses of the computers such as the others discussed previously. Learning how to use the technologies associated with computers and the Internet, and forming a social support group that can assist with future activities, may be important indirect contributing factors to the impact of library computers on the individuals and communities they serve.Overall, 60 percent of users (46.3 million people) used their public library’s computer and Internet resources to connect with other people, find support for a problem or concern, or enjoy other social activities. Over 34 percent of these users indicated they had undertaken actions in this area on behalf of a relative, friend, colleague, or someone else in the past year. (p. 158-9)

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)

Accessing Government and Legal Services and Information

The use of the Internet to deliver federal, state, and local government services and as a means for providing access to the justice system has become more and more prevalent in recent years. People use the library’s computers to access government programs and services, get help from government agencies, look for government forms, learn about laws and regulations or permits and licenses, and look for assistance with legal questions or problems. In many cases, they are able to follow through in these areas by completing activities online such as signing up for government programs, obtaining a permit or a license, or completing legal forms or finding legal help.As in other areas discussed in this report, libraries have become a de facto service center for many people who use these increasingly important public offerings. Many government agencies are relying on online delivery to improve their efficiency and reach more citizens; for many, this is the only place that access to these services is available. In addition, in times of disaster, the library may be the only functioning access point for critical government services for people from all walks of life.Among all users of library computers and Internet connections, 34 percent of users report that they found government programs or services, obtained important government forms, discovered information about laws or regulations affecting their activities, found and submitted permits or license applications, or obtained help with a legal issue. (p. 116-7)

Health and wellness

People rely on public library computers and Internet access for two of the most critical aspects of their lives: health and wellness. Users are logging in to find ways to improve their diets, find doctors, research their own or others’ illnesses, locate health care insurance, and track down discount medications. In fact, libraries have become a nontraditional, and perhaps overlooked, component of the national public health system.The expansion of the Internet is creating a growing number of vital links between access to information technology and personal health at a time when health care stands as one of the nation’s biggest public policy issues that impacts the welfare of citizens as well as the financial solvency of the nation’s largest social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.Indeed, meeting health and wellness needs was one of the most frequently reported uses of public access technology, with 37 percent of users reporting having looked for health information, treatment options, care givers, or ways to improve their health; 56 percent of these users also reported seeking out these types of information for relatives, friends, colleagues, and others. (p.97)

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