Public libraries report double-digit growthin Internet services in one year

Contact: Macey Morales
Manager, ALA-PIO Media Relations
(312) 280-4393

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2008

Availability of online homework help, e-books, premium Web content jump

CHICAGO – A new study clearly finds that America’s public libraries are breaking through traditional brick-and-mortar walls to serve more people online and in person.

America’s 16,543 public library buildings are leveraging technology to help children succeed in school and support lifelong learning. More than 83 percent now offer online homework resources, including live tutors and collections of reliable Web sources – up 15 percent in one year, according to “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2007-2008.”

The study, conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University (FSU), shows today’s libraries are partners in learning – providing free access to expensive online resources that would otherwise be out of reach for most families, said ALA President Jim Rettig.

“As people change the ways they meet their educational, entrepreneurial and entertainment needs, libraries also change,” Rettig said. “Your library card is the smartest card you own – online, as well as in person.”

Samuel Mutch found this out when he logged on to’s Live Homework Help® through the Natrona County Public Library Web site in Casper, Wyo. He struggled with writing assignments and had a major research paper due in his seventh-grade English class. A live tutor was able to help him with his grammar and organizing the paper. “I got my best grade ever on that paper, and I could chat with a real tutor online just like I do with my friends,” he said. “The library has a lot of good stuff online.”

Students of all ages also can talk to librarians online, read full-text newspapers, take practice exams and research paper topics. The report found that 88 percent of all libraries and 98 percent of urban libraries offer subscription databases in virtually every subject – including history, literature and science – and area of interest, such as genealogy, auto repair and investing.

Libraries also reported increases in providing:

  • Audiobooks and podcasts (available in 71 percent of U.S. public libraries);
  • Digital reference via email, IM and chat (62.5 percent);
  • e-books (52 percent);
  • Video (49 percent); and
  • Online instructional courses (43 percent).

“Libraries Connect Communities” found that 73 percent of libraries (and 83 percent of rural libraries) are the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. This access has become even more important as families across the country struggle economically. As a result, many libraries have begun reporting double-digit growth in computer usage in 2008.

“Public libraries connect people to books, technology and educational programs – in the building and online – so they can remain informed and engaged citizens,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the U.S. Libraries initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the study. “Local governments, businesses and private foundations must work together and help libraries secure and sustain the funding they need to continue to meet their communities’ unique needs.”

Libraries are increasing their connection speeds to allow for more Internet services and an improved online experience, but more than half of libraries say their access speed is inadequate to meet demand. Applications like distance education and multimedia, coupled with near-constant online use and shared wireless and desktop connections, strain available bandwidth. The Delaware County Library System in Pennsylvania, for instance, delayed offering an online tutoring service until its 1.5 Mbps connection was upgraded to fiber optics earlier this year.

As online content and information becomes more important to both patrons and the business of libraries, library staff time dedicated to helping people get and use online tools is mounting. Library staff reported that, on average, they spend 50 percent or more of their time managing technology and helping patrons learn how to use it effectively, according to “Libraries Connect Communities.”

Additional findings include:

  • Funding data indicate libraries are relying more on non-tax funding sources;
  • 66 percent of public libraries offer free wireless access, up about 12 percent over last year;
  • Almost two-thirds of all public libraries provide 1.5Mbps or faster Internet access speeds, with a continuing disparity between urban (90 percent) and rural libraries (51.5 percent);
  • 74 percent of libraries report their staff helps patrons understand and use e-government services, including enrolling in Medicare and applying for unemployment;
  • 73.4 percent of libraries provide technology training to library patrons; and
  • While the number of Internet computers available to the public climbed for the first time in several years, one in five libraries report there are consistently fewer computers than patrons who wish to use them throughout the day.

The 2007-2008 study, the second in a series, offers the most current national data available on technology access and funding in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />U.S. public libraries. It collected data through surveys from more than 5,400 public libraries, a questionnaire to the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, and focus groups and site visits in New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. To view the final report, please visit A bound copy of the report also is available for sale in the ALA Store,


The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

The Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University conducts research that focuses on the information user, and the interaction of the user with information products, services, policies, technologies, and organizations. Of special interest is the planning and evaluation of networked and other information services. The Institute also conducts information policy research on current issues at Federal and state levels related to public access, privacy, records management, and use of information in electronic forms as well as other topics.

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people -- especially those with the fewest resources -- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.