Public Libraries: Essential for Today's Technology Needs

By Teresa Koltzenburg | Download PDF of Public Libraries and the Internet 2006: Study Results Last week, Andy Bridges, from ALA's Washington Office, put together some summary information on the recently released Public Libraries and the Internet 2006: Results and Findings study.

According to Andy, "The report was conducted by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University (FSU) and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association. Its primary goal was 'to provide current information that describes public library activities in the networked environment.'"

Andy's summary notes:

The study revealed that 99 percent of all U.S. public libraries provide free public access to computers wired to the Internet, compared to 25 percent 10 years ago. Also, librarians overwhelmingly report that the most important impact of this service is providing Internet access to those who otherwise would not have it.

This is the first time that impact has been quantified on a national scale. Findings included:
  • Despite increased demand for library computers, libraries typically have not seen a corresponding increase in budgets and many are challenged to provide enough computers or fast-enough connection speeds to meet demand.

  • More people are relying on library computers to find government services, which increasingly are more available online. For example, senior citizens facing the 2006 deadline to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006 relied on library staff and library computers to research programs and complete online enrollment forms.

  • Only 1 in 5 library branches say they have enough computer workstations, and 45 percent have no plans to add computers because of space considerations, cost factors, and maintenance issues.

  • Nearly half of libraries report their connection speeds, regardless of bandwidth, cannot meet user demands some or all of the time. The study identified connection speeds of 769 kbps or higher as adequate, but most commercial home broadband connections, at three to six mbps, surpass this rate. As online learning tools, information databases, and computer programs require more intensive bandwidth, Internet users need faster connections for a meaningful experience.

  • Rural libraries are particularly vulnerable as they tend to have fewer computers and lower Internet connection speeds, and more than a third of rural libraries have no plans to add or replace computers.
Findings like these listed above and those in the rest of the study are important not just to libraries and library advocates, but also to legislators, information technology professionals, and, most importantly, those communities served by libraries.

Share this report with your Representatives and Senators! Let them know how vital libraries are to your community and that for many they are the first or even only choice for Internet access.—Andy Bridges, Communications Specialist, ALA Washington Office

The 255-page study (PDF) is here:
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