The public library has become a key means of “access to Federal, State or County government” for many library patrons, as “it provides a service where some business can only be conducted via the Internet.” Many libraries recognize that the Internet access they provide is the only way that some patrons can interact with e–government services. One Texas library explained, “As government entities increasingly turn to Web–based applications to service clients, a large proportion of the community is relying upon the Library for access to and instruction/assistance on using the Internet.”In early 2006, many people relied on the public library for an important interaction with e–government — signing up for the mandatory Medicare prescription drug coverage plans. Though enrollment for these programs was not limited to online forms, the government encouraged seniors to register online, and much of the information about the program was primarily available online. As a result, many seniors relied on Internet access in libraries to research the drug plans and to sign up for them. A number of libraries, particularly those in areas with higher concentrations of seniors, indicated that they had become well–versed in the plans by helping seniors. A South Dakota library spoke for many by writing, “During the last few months this library has been able to help many older citizens sign up for the Part D medicare drug program.”The reliance on the public library’s public access computing and Internet access to research tax information and complete online tax forms has also become commonplace. As one library explained, “Our connection also allows us a lifeline to government documents — we wouldn’t be able to provide tax forms this year without it.” The ability of patrons to complete taxes online at the library is important in many communities around the country.
Providers of Government Information
Furthermore, public libraries are the primary site to locate information about and produced by the various levels of government. Governments, in turn, depend on libraries to collect and disseminate government information. As governments are increasingly making information available in electronic format only, it becomes even more important for libraries to provide electronic access to their users free of charge, so all members of the community, regardless of income bracket, will be able to find needed government information. Canadian public libraries are the major distribution channel of government documents to the public. Through the Depository Services Program, libraries receive government information. “By using the infrastructure of the library community to provide access, the federal government guarantees long-term and wide-spread availability of information gathered” (Canadian Government Publishing Centre, 1990, p.3) (170).
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)