U.S. Public Library Internet Connectivity

public library funding and technology access study logo

Today’s public libraries are technology hubs that millions rely on as their first or only choice for Internet access. Libraries are essential to ensuring access to educational, entrepreneurial and employment resources. For instance, a National School Boards Association study found that nearly all school districts (96 percent) say that at least some of their teachers assign homework requiring Internet use. More and more employers – including major retailers – require job applications be filed online. Government agencies also increasingly require individuals to go online for critical services and resources. To meet this growing community demand, public libraries require reliable, affordable and high-quality Internet access.

The Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 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 is conducted by the American Library Association (ALA); the Center for Library Innovation, College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland; and the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University (FSU).

Provided below are connectivity findings from the 2008-2009 study report, which was published in September 2009 and can be found at the 2008-2009 study page. Previous year findings are available at www.ala.org/plinternetfunding. For additional information, please contact Larra Clark in the ALA Office for Research & Statistics at 312-280-2129.

You can use the following navigation to get to the figures listed below.

Figure 1: Public Library Outlet the Only Provider of Free Public Internet and Free Public Computer Access

Figure 2: Public Library Outlet Maximum Speed of Public Access Internet Services

Figure 3: Adequacy of Public Library Outlet Public Access Internet Connection

Figure 4: Public Access Wireless Internet Connectivity in Public Library Outlet

Figure 5: Public Library Outlet Shared Wireless-Workstation Bandwidth

Figure 6: Possibility of Increasing Adequacy of Public Library Outlet Public Access Internet Connection

    Figure 1: Public Library Outlet the Only Provider of Free Public Internet and Free Public Computer Access, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty.

Free Access by Community Type and Poverty Level
Type of Access Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium Poverty High Poverty Overall
Free

61.1%
(n=1,665)

66.2%
(n=3,357)

78.6%
(n=6,061)

72.5%
(n=9,473)

65.8%
(n=1,504)

63.5%
(n=106)

71.4%
(n=11,083)

Not free

28.1%
(n=764)

19.7%
(n=999)

16.1%
(n=1,239)

18.5%
(n=2,412)

23.8%
(n=543)

28.3%
(n=47)

19.4%
(n=3,002)

Don't know

10.6%
(n=288)

14.0%
(n=708)

5.2%
(n=401)

8.8%
(n=1,152)

10.1%
(n=231)

8.4%
(n=14)

9.0%
(n=1,397)

Other

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Weighted missing values, n=448
Key:  * : Insufficient data to report

Figure 1 shows the percentage of public libraries reporting that they are the only provider of free public Internet and free public computer access.  As reported in the past two studies, over 70 percent of libraries report that they are the only provider of free public Internet and public computer access in their communities.

    Figure 2: Public Library Outlet Maximum Speed of Public Access Internet Services, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty. 

Access Speed by Community Type and Poverty Level

Maximum Speed

Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium
Poverty
High Poverty Overall

Less than 256kbps

*

2.4%
(n=114)

5.1%
(n=371)

3.2%
(n=398)

4.8%
(n=107)

*

3.4%
(n=505)

257kbps - 768kbps

3.2%
(n=87)

5.8%
(n=276)

13.7%
(n=994)

9.4%
(n=1,159)

8.5%
(n=189)

5.5%
(n=9)

9.2%
(n=1,357)

769kbps - 1.4mbps

3.9%
(n=105)

7.8%
(n=373)

12.2%
(n=886)

9.7%
(n=1,195)

7.6%
(n=169)

*

9.3%
(n=1,364)

1.5 Mbps (T1)

26.9%
(n=723)

27.2%
(n=1,297)

23.8%
(n=1,733)

24.9%
(n=3,065)

28.7%
(n=638)

30.7%
(n=50)

25.5%
(n=3,753)

1.6 Mbps - 3.0 Mbps

8.0%
(n=216)

9.5%
(n=450)

11.1%
(n=805)

10.0%
(n=1,227)

10.5%
(n=234)

5.5%
(n=9)

10.0%
(n=1,470)

3.1 Mbps - 6 Mbps

14.0%
(n=375)

11.6%
(n=551)

10%
(n=727)

11.4%
(n=1,400)

10.2%
(n=226)

17.1%
(n=28)

11.2%
(n=1,654)

6.1 Mbps - 10 Mbps

16.5%
(n=442)

15.7%
(n=746)

5.9%
(n=432)

11.0%
(n=1,352)

10.8%
(n=240)

16.5%
(n=27)

11.0%
(n=1,619)

Greater than 10 Mbps

23.9%
(n=641)

12.4%
(n=592)

7.9%
(n=571)

11.8%
(n=1,456)

14.1%
(n=314)

20.9%
(n=34)

12.3%
(n=1,804)

Don’t Know

2.8%
(n=76)

7.6%
(n=361)

10.3%
(n=752)

8.7%
(n=1,076)

4.8%
(n=107)

3.7%
(n=6)

8.1%
(n=1,189)

Weighted missing values, n=1,250
Key: * : Insufficient data to report

Figure 2 shows the maximum speed of public Internet access offered by library outlets. Almost 22 percent (21.9) of libraries report connect speeds less than 1.5 Mbps, down from 25.5 percent last year. A growing number of libraries moved up to speeds between 1.6 Mbps and 10 Mbps (32.2 percent this year compared to 17.1 percent in 2007-2008). As a result, the percentage of libraries reporting 1.5 Mbps as their maximum connection speed decreased to 25.5 percent, as compared to 38.9 percent in 2007-2008.  One of the larger increases can be seen within suburban outlets; 15.7 percent versus 6.3 percent last year of these outlets provide between 6.1 and 10 Mbps speeds. Similar to last year, urban and high poverty outlets are the most likely to provide connection speeds greater than 10 Mbps (23.9 and 20.9 percent, respectively).  Rural outlets (13.7 percent) are still the most likely to report a maximum speed of only 257-768kbps. It should be noted that direct comparisons between these results and previous years’ results are not possible in every case, as speed categories were altered in the 2008-2009 survey.

    Figure 3: Adequacy of Public Library Outlet Public Access Internet Connection, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty.

Adequacy of Connection Speed by Community Type and Poverty Level
Adequacy of
Connection Speed
Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium Poverty High Poverty Overall

The connection speed is insufficient to meet patron needs

26.3%
(n=723)

16.6%
(n=843)

15.5%
(n=1,208)

17.0%
(n=2,238)

21.5%
(n=499)

22.3%
(n=37)

17.7%
(n=2,774)

The connection speed is sufficient to meet patron needs at some times

44.7%
(n=1,228)

41.9%
(n=2,136)

40.9%
(n=3,194)

41.5%
(n=5,460)

43.6%
(n=1,010)

52.4%
(n=87)

41.9%
(n=6,557)

The connection speed is sufficient to meet patron needs at all times

28.6%
(n=786)

41.3%
(n=2,106)

42.9%
(n=3,348)

41.1%
(n=5,407)

34.1%
(n=791)

25.1%
(n=42)

39.9%
(n=6,240)

Don’t know

*

*

*

*

*

*

*


Weighted missing values, n=316
Key:   * : Insufficient data to report

Although libraries reported increases in their connection speeds, they continue to report that their connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron needs some or all of the time.  Indeed, nearly 60 percent (59.6 percent) of libraries report that their connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron needs some or all of the time, as compared to 57.5 percent reported in 2007-2008.  Urban libraries, in particular, report insufficient speeds some or all of the time (71 percent) as compared to 67 percent last year.  Rural libraries also reported a slight drop in the percentage reporting sufficiency at all times (42.9 percent in 2008-2009 versus 46.3 percent last year).

    Figure 4: Public Access Wireless Internet Connectivity in Public Library Outlet, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty.

Wireless Connectivity by Community Type and Poverty Level

Availability of Public Access
Wireless Internet Services

Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium Poverty High Poverty Overall

Currently available for public use

83.0%
(n=2,276)

81.9%
(n=4,153)

70.5%
(n=5,482)

77.2%
(n=10,135)

71.9%
(n=1,656)

73.2%
(n=120)

76.4%
(n=11,911)

Not currently available, but there are plans to make it available within the next year

8.1%
(n=223)

7.6%
(n=385)

10.7%
(n=829)

9.1%
(n=1,196)

9.2%
(n=212)

17.7%
(n=29)

9.2%
(n=1,437)

Not currently available and no plans to make it available within the next year

8.9%
(n=244)

10.5%
(n=532)

18.8%
(n=1,464)

13.6%
(n=1,790)

18.9%
(n=435)

9.2%
(n=15)

14.4%
(n=2,240)

Weighted missing values, n=371
Key: * Insufficient data to report

Public libraries continue to increase wireless availability, as 76.4 percent of libraries offer wireless connections (up from 65.9 percent in 2007-2008). Urban (83 percent) and suburban (81.9 percent) outlets are most likely to offer wireless connections, whereas rural and medium poverty outlets (70.5 and 71.9 percent, respectively) are the least likely to provide wireless Internet access.

    Figure 5: Public Library Outlet Shared Wireless-Workstation Bandwidth, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty.

Wireless/Workstation Bandwidth by Community Type and Poverty Level

Bandwidth connection

Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium Poverty High Poverty Overall

Yes, both the wireless connection and public access workstations share bandwidth/connection, no management techniques

31.5%
(n=708)

41.7%
(n=1,678)

64.0%
(n=3,385)

50.3%
(n=4,944)

48.7%
(n=781)

39.7%
(n=46)

49.9%
(n=5,771)

Yes, both the wireless connection and public access workstations share bandwidth/connection, but have management techniques

33.5%
(n=753)

27.8%
(n=1,119)

19.0%
(n=1,003)

24.9%
(n=2,448)

24.1%
(n=387)

35.3%
(n=41)

24.9%
(n=2,875)

No, the wireless connection is separate from the public access workstation bandwidth/connection

34.2%
(n=769)

28.5%
(n=1,148)

14.0%
(n=739)

22.5%
(n=2,215)

25.8%
(n=413)

23.3%
(n=27)

23.0%
(n=2,656)

Don’t know

*

1.9%
(n=78)

3.0%
(n=158)

2.3%
(n=231)

1.4%
(n=22)

2.6%
(n=3)

2.2%
(n=255)

Weighted missing values, n=353
Key: * : Insufficient data to report

As was the case last year, nearly 75 percent of libraries report sharing the wireless and public access workstation connections, but close to 25 percent use bandwidth management techniques to improve connection speeds.   Rural and low poverty (64 percent and 50.3 percent, respectively) outlets are most likely to share the connections and utilize no management techniques. While wireless provision expands Internet access for library patrons with mobile devices, it diminishes the effective Internet access speeds when shared with desktop computers.

    Figure 6: Possibility of Increasing Adequacy of Public Library Outlet Public Access Internet Connection, by Metropolitan Status and Poverty.

Likelihood of Increasing Connection Speeds by Community Type and Poverty Level

Increasing Adequacy of Connections

Urban Suburban Rural Low Poverty Medium Poverty High Poverty Overall

No, the connection speed is already at the maximum level available

12.5%
(n=339)

26.0%
(n=1,281)

30.9%
(n=2,339)

27.3%
(n=3,480)

20.4%
(n=465)

8.4%
(n=14)

26.0%
(n=3,959)

No, there is no interest in increasing the speed of public access Internet connection

10.8%
(n=293)

17.7%
(n=872)

18.3%
(n=1,386)

17.4%
(n=2,219)

13.3%
(n=303)

16.9%
(n=28)

16.8%
(n=2,550)

Yes there is interest in increasing the branch’s bandwidth, but the library cannot currently afford to

22.1%
(n=1,826)

21.5%
(n=1,062)

24.1%
(n=1,826)

22.5%
(n=2,874)

26.2%
(n=596)

10.2%
(n=17)

22.9%
(n=3,487)

Yes and there are plans in place to increase the bandwidth within the next year

26.8%
(n=725)

13.0%
(n=642)

8.0%
(n=605)

11.4%
(n=1,459)

19.3%
(n=440)

44.0%
(n=73)

13.0%
(n=1,972)

It is possible to increase the speed; however, there are no plans in place to increase the bandwidth within the next year

20.0%
(n=541)

15.9%
(n=786)

12.0%
(n=910)

14.7%
(n=1,871)

15.0%
(n=342)

14.5%
(n=24)

14.7%
(n=2,237)

There is interest but the branch lacks the technical knowledge to increase the bandwidth in the library

*

*

1.2%
(n=90)

1.0%
(n=130)

*

*

1.0%
(n=145)

Other

7.4%
(n=201)

5.0%
(n=244)

5.5%
(n=416)

5.8%
(n=735)

5.1%
(n=115)

6.0%
(n=10)

5.7%
(n=860)

Weighted missing values, n=750
Key: * : Insufficient data to report

A notable difference between this year and the 2007-2008 survey is the increase in the overall percentage (26 percent, up from 17.1 last year) of outlets that responded the connection speed is the maximum level available.  Rural (30.9 percent) and low poverty (27.3 percent) outlets are most likely to report that their connection speeds are the maximum speeds available. Libraries reported a drop in plans to increase their bandwidth within the next year, most notably in suburban (13 percent versus 21.3 percent last year) and medium poverty (19.3 percent versus 24.4 percent last year) outlets, although many more high poverty outlets have plans to increase the bandwidth next year, 44 percent versus 28.1 percent last year. A total of 5.7 percent of outlets report an additional factor (other) in the possibility of increasing the adequacy of the connection speed.  Of these, 29.9 percent report that the decision to increase bandwidth is determined by another entity (i.e., city or county technology agency), and 15.9 percent indicated upgrades were recently completed.

For more information on the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study or questions about the content on this page, please contact the Office for Research & Statistics.