Internet Use in Libraries

ALA Library Fact Sheet 26

The focus of this fact sheet is on how libraries assist with the ever-growing Internet access needs of their library patrons - especially those whose only Internet access is using the computers that libraries, especially public libraries, provide.

 

Most Recent ALA Resources on Internet Use in Libraries

 

National Library Reports

ALA Library Fact Sheet 6 spotlights several annual national survey reports on libraries, including these latest editions:

  • Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, 2011-2012 assesses public access to computers, the Internet, and Internet-related services in U.S. public libraries, and the impact of library funding changes on connectivity, technology deployment, and sustainability. The study builds on the longest-running and largest study of Internet connectivity in public libraries, Public Libraries & the Internet, begun in 1994 by John Carlo Bertot and Charles R. McClure. This latest report's findings were summarized in our June 21, 2012 news item, U.S. libraries strive to provide innovative technology services despite budget cuts, stating that more Americans than ever turn to their libraries for access to essential technology services, which underscores the competing concerns that face America's libraries: cumulative budget cuts that threaten access to libraries and services, increasing demand for technology training and the chronic presence of the digital divide. Reflecting stubborn unemployment statistics, for the third consecutive year, libraries report services for job seekers as the most important public Internet service. More than 92 percent of libraries nationwide provide access to job databases and other job resources, while 76 percent help users complete online job applications. Increasingly, as government agencies eliminate print forms and close satellite offices, communities turn to their public libraries for access to e-government resources, and assistance with requests such as filling out forms for Social Security and Medicare, filing court petitions and downloading W-2 forms. More than 96 percent of libraries report providing assistance with e-government services, an increase of nearly 16 percent from last year.

 

 

  • Pew Internet Libraries - 2012 reports included The rise of e-reading; Libraries, patrons, and e-books; and Mobile Connections to Libraries. 2013 reports included Library Services in the Digital Age. Technology is changing expectations about how to find and use information, particularly among younger generations, and libraries are changing along the way. The accompanying project blog, Libraries in the Digital Age, is updated and maintained by the staff of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does so by conducting public opinion polling and social science research; by reporting news and analyzing news coverage; and by holding forums and briefings. It does not take positions on policy issues.

 

  • The most current federal statistics report on public libraries, Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2010 (2013) addresses the topic in Section 2. Public Library Resources: Indicator 7. Computers and the Internet (PDF):

    Providing public access computers continued to be one of the fastest growing services in public libraries. In FY 2010, public libraries reported a computer use rate of more than one use for every five visits to the library. Public libraries have responded to demand by increasing access, doubling the number of computers in the past 10 years.

    Public libraries provided the general public with access to 244,842 Internet-ready computer terminals in FY 2010 (Figure 7-1). This is an increase of 5.8 percent since FY 2009 and a 10-year increase of 100.5 percent. Overall, this is 4.1 computers per 5,000 people in the legal service areas for public libraries. There were 367.80 million user-sessions on these computers, an increase of 10.1 percent since FY 2006, the first time this metric was reported. There were 234.11 computer uses per 1,000 visits to public libraries, a 1-year increase of 1.7. There was a strong relationship between computer uses per capita and visits per capita.

    Public libraries in rural areas had the highest ratio of Internet-accessible computers (Figure 7-2). There were 6.1 PCs per 5,000 people, a 1-year increase of 3.4 percent. The other locales also saw an increase in their PC accessibility: city libraries had 3.6 per 5,000 (an increase of 5.6 percent); suburban libraries had 3.8 (increase of 5.8 percent); and town libraries had 4.3 (increase of 4.8 percent). Libraries in the Plains had the highest number of Internet computers, with 5.6 per 5,000 people in the service area, an increase of 4.7 from FY 2009. In contrast, libraries in the Far West had the fewest number of Internet computers, at 2.7 per 5,000 people. New England and the Southeast regions saw the biggest change, with 1-year increases of 8.2 and 7.9 percent, respectively. Vermont and Kansas had the most computers per population; Hawaii, Nevada, and California had the fewest.

    Libraries in suburban and rural areas saw increases in the number of computer uses per 1,000 visits (Figure 7-3). Suburban libraries had 225.9 uses per 1,000 visits, an increase of 3.3 percent, and rural libraries had 243.0 uses, an increase of 3.6 percent. Computer use varied across regions, from 200.0 per 1,000 visits in the Mideast to 271.7 in the Southeast. States with the highest computer usage were Louisiana and Kansas, while the lowest computer usage was in Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

    The Supplemental Tables (formerly formed the bulk of the reports; now separated out and labeled "supplemental") of the Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2010 include the following:

    Table 11. Number of public-use Internet computers in public libraries and uses of Internet computers per year, by state: Fiscal year 2010 on pages 10-11 of this 27-page PDF

    Table 15. Total, average, and median number of electronic materials in public libraries, by type of material and state: Fiscal year 2010 on pages 22-23 of this 27-page PDF

    Table 16. Total licensed databases in public libraries and percentage distribution of databases, by source of databases and state: Fiscal year 2010 on pages 25-26 of this 27-page PDF

    Table 24. Total collection expenditures of public libraries and percentage distribution of expenditures, by type of expenditure and state: Fiscal year 2010 [including electronic materials expenditures] on pages 16-17 of this 33-page PDF

    Table 36. Average number of public-use Internet computers of public libraries per stationary outlet and number per 5,000 population, by state: Fiscal year 2010 on page 3 of this 13-page PDF

 

 

  • The federal library agency, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in Washington DC, announced in a June 17, 2011, press release, U.S. IMPACT Study Second Report - Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access:

     

    Public libraries have become essential points of access to the Internet and computers in local communities, with nearly every library in the country offering public internet access. Yet, individual library practices can have significant affect on the quality and character of this public service. Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access (PDF), offers an analysis of the service in four public library systems and makes recommendations for strategies that help to sustain and improve public access service. The report was funded through a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and was produced by the University of Washington Information School.

    Libraries play a vital role in providing services that are necessary in everyday life. The recommendations from this study provide a foundation to discuss the wide range of internal and external policy issues that affect the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the types of library resources and environments most patrons encounter in U.S. public libraries.

    "This study identifies important best practices that can help libraries improve patron experience and contribute to positive learning outcomes," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. "This report will be very useful for educating the public and provides actionable recommendations for policymakers and funders as they consider future efforts in this area."

    This second report is a companion volume to the first report in the U.S. IMPACT Study, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries.

 

CIPA - Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

Filtering in schools and libraries - After June 23, 2003

The Supreme Court decision in United States v. American Library Association, No. 02-361 (June 23, 2003), "the CIPA decision," means that public libraries that accept federal dollars must install filters on all computers.

For a summary of the issues and what is required now, please see "Filtering and the First Amendment," by Deborah Caldwell-Stone (posted April 2, 2013). For additional details, consult http://www.ala.org/cipa

Extent of filtering in public libraries - Before June 23, 2003

Before the Supreme Court decision was handed down, some public libraries had installed filters on some or all of their computers. How many? John Bertot and Charles McClure of the Florida State University, Information Use Management & Policy Institute gathered data on that topic in the spring of 2002, through a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Their report, Public Libraries and the Internet 2002: Internet Connectivity and Networked Services (PDF, 28 pgs), was the 6th in a series of Internet connectivity studies conducted by this research team.

The study used a stratified sample drawn from the 16,004 public library outlets that could be geo-coded and sampled in terms of their level of poverty (less than 20%, 20%-40%, and greater than 40%) and metropolitan status (urban, suburban, and rural). Selected outlets received a brief questionnaire covering connectivity, number of terminals, access to subscription databases, and use of filters. Regarding filters for content (Table 10), the results were as follows:

Filtered Computers Percentage of Public Libraries
None 52.1%
On some computers 17.5%
On all computers 24.4%

Outlets in urban areas were most likely to have filters on all computers and outlets in rural areas were most likely to have no filters.

 

Filtering in schools and libraries - After June 23, 2003

For fullest details, consult http://www.ala.org/cipa

As noted above, the Supreme Court decision means that schools and public libraries that accept federal dollars must install filters on all computers.

 

Current Resources

ALA Recommended Websites
List of recommended and award-winning Web sites and online resources for all ages, along with Internet use and safety tips for parents and Internet use policy help for librarians, trustees, and educators. Includes guidance for using social media.

All Web Sites titles at the ALA Online Store
List of ALA Editions books and e-books, ALA TechSource Workshops, Library Technology Reports issues, ALA Editions eCourses, PLA On-Demand Webinars

ALA Library account at Delicious.com with lists of links tagged to the following subjects:

Libraries and Social Media

E-Book Readers

Mobile Library Services

 

NOTE: Originally, the focus of this fact sheet was on the prevalence of U.S. libraries, especially public libraries, having computers with access to the Internet that their patrons could use. Previous versions of this fact sheet can be accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine using the original URL http://www.ala.org/library/fact26.html

 

Last updated: June 2013

 

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail: library@ala.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611.