Public library

Participating in community life

With the increasing use of the Internet and online media to support political and social activities and provide access to news and current events across the country, access to the Internet becomes an important component of community life. The study found that people use their library’s computers and Internet connection to organize or participate in community groups, volunteer, engage in political and social causes, and keep up with the news and current events.The actions enabled by access to the library computers for many users are perhaps even more important, ranging from finding funding sources or members for community groups to donating to political or social causes. As communities become more distributed and less based on geographic proximity, the library is helping those who might otherwise have no other access to online communities participate in an active way in our society.Overall, 33 percent of users (25.5 million people) used their public library’s computer and Internet resources to learn about social or political issues or to participate in community life. Of these users, 40 percent indicated they had undertaken activities in this area for a relative, friend, colleague, or someone else in the past year. (p. 131)

Accessing Government and Legal Services and Information

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)

Health and wellness

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)

Employment and entrepreneurship

Activities related to employment were the third highest reported use for library computer users, with 40 percent of the respondents indicating use in this area. In addition, 7 percent of the users used the library for activities related to starting or managing a business of their own.Results from the study show that libraries are serving as an important supplement to local and federal agencies focused on employment activities, by providing access to needed services in a setting that can offer support and access to all members of the community. In the current economy, these services are making a difference in the lives of individuals and their families across the nation.In addition to finding actual jobs, people reported using the library’s online resources for preparatory steps such as creating resumes, researching job information, submitting applications online, and receiving training for job-related skills. Those who are employed use the library to conduct work, and entrepreneurs and small business owners use the library’s computer resources for writing business plans, finding investors, marketing, and business administration. (p.71-2)

Users learn about educational programs at the library

A first step in meeting educational needs for many users is learning about a program of study—almost 37 percent of library computer users who engaged in educational activities indicated that they used library computer resources to look for information on educational programs ranging from GEDs to graduate degrees. (p.61)

Libraries have become an important part of the educational system

Libraries have become an important part of the educational system in the United States, particularly through their computer and Internet services; in addition to allowing users access to the educational system online, they provide individual work stations, specialized classes, one-on-one training, and coordinated efforts with other groups in support of educational activities. (p.56)