New report outlines how policymakers can scale library successes to advance digital equity

For Immediate Release
Wed, 10/26/2022


Shawnda Hines

Deputy Director, Communications

Public Policy & Advocacy

American Library Association

Amid historic levels of government funding for digital inclusion, 
New report outlines how policymakers can scale library successes to advance digital equity 

Washington, D.C. – Today the American Library Association (ALA) released Leverage libraries to Achieve Digital Equity for All, which illustrates libraries’ longstanding work to advance digital equity and makes the case for policymakers to draw on the expertise of library professionals in designing state and local digital equity plans required to receive the influx of federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to support digital inclusion for all. 

“With new federal funding and state plans getting underway, we have an historic opportunity to strengthen broadband adoption and technology skills, as well as broadband access,” said ALA President Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada. “To accelerate and sustain this efforts, state and local policymakers must engage library professionals as part of digital inclusion planning, outreach, and implementation. As the new report shows, libraries are trusted community-based institutions with reach, expertise, and diverse resources to advance digital equity.” 

Building digital skills is a vital component of digital equity and one that has historically received little federal attention or funding, particularly relative to broadband technology investments. According to a 2021 Pew survey cited in the ALA report, “26% of respondents reported they usually need someone else’s help to set up or show them how to use a new computer, smartphone or another electronic device.” With 88 percent of all public libraries in the United States offering formal or informal digital literacy programming to community residents, libraries are uniquely positioned to help communities close the digital divide. 

More than two-thirds of the $65 billion in the IIJA will be allocated directly to the states and territories based on approval of their five-year digital equity plans, which must include engagement with community partners such as libraries. Leverage Libraries to Achieve Digital Equity for All spotlights a few of the many ways America’s 117,000+ libraries of all types—including school, public, community college, college & research, tribal, and special—are instrumental in supporting and advancing digital equity, including: 

  • Providing a rural community access to medical care that is a 90-minute drive one way through a partnership between and the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the Pottsboro (Texas) Area Library, which created private telehealth rooms that patrons with no or low bandwidth at home can use to meet with medical practitioners.  

  • Building media literacy skills so users are informed, engaged, and think critically about the information they consume and create online through the Fearless Learning program in San Antonio College Library 

  • Offering a maker lab that includes software and hardware to support experiential learning and spark innovation at the Norman (Okla.) High School Library Learning Commons   

  • Providing employment support to the broader community through workshops, services, and tools at Eastern Illinois University Extended Learning program  

  • Empowering community members who have served time in jail or prison to create their own businesses through the New Start Entrepreneurship Incubator program in Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library 

Detailing the ways libraries represent an excellent return on investment, the report recommends how policymakers, state and local education agencies, Congress and federal agencies can leverage libraries’ existing physical, technological, expert resources and community reputation for digital equity planning, deployment and sustainability.