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.
The benefits go far beyond simply enjoyment and amusement, to being an essential form of relaxation for some people, helping to relieve stress, providing a break from the pressures of everyday life, and assisting others with the treatment of an illness. (p.138) The opportunities offered by libraries, in addition to providing access to books and other recreational materials such as videos, further enhance people's leisure time by giving them the chance to socialize and by providing access to activities many others in society take for granted because they can afford them. (p.139)
People rely on public library computers and Internet access for two of the most critical aspects of their lives: health and wellness. Users are logging in to find ways to improve their diets, find doctors, research their own or others’ illnesses, locate health care insurance, and track down discount medications. In fact, libraries have become a nontraditional, and perhaps overlooked, component of the national public health system.The expansion of the Internet is creating a growing number of vital links between access to information technology and personal health at a time when health care stands as one of the nation’s biggest public policy issues that impacts the welfare of citizens as well as the financial solvency of the nation’s largest social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.Indeed, meeting health and wellness needs was one of the most frequently reported uses of public access technology, with 37 percent of users reporting having looked for health information, treatment options, care givers, or ways to improve their health; 56 percent of these users also reported seeking out these types of information for relatives, friends, colleagues, and others. (p.97)