Friday, July 16, 2010
Study: Opportunity for All, How the American Public Benfits from Internet Access at U.S Libraries
Over the past decade and a half, free access to computers and the Internet in U.S. public libraries evolved from a rare commodity into a core service. Now, people from all walks of life rely on this service every day to look for jobs, find
health care, and read the latest news. As the nation struggled through a historic recession, nearly one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 14 used library Internet computers and those in poverty relied on these resources even more.
This study provides the first large-scale investigation of the ways library patrons use this service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. A national telephone survey, nearly 45,000 online surveys at public libraries, and hundreds
of interviews reveal the central role modern libraries play in a digital society. The library’s role as a technology resource and training center has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent of libraries offered visitors access to the Internet. Today, almost all public library branches offer visitors free access to computers and the Internet, thanks to a sustained effort by federal, state, and local governments; private philanthropy; and the work of librarians. Until now, though, there has been no systematic study that provided a national picture of how people use this important community resource.
Internet access is now one of the most sought after public library services, and it is used by nearly half of all visitors. Over the past year, 45 percent of the 169 million visitors to public libraries connected to the Internet using a library computer or wireless network during their visit, even though more than three quarters of these people had Internet access at home, work, or elsewhere. The widespread use of these services by people of varying age, income, and experience is an indication of the unique role that public libraries play in the evolving digital landscape. Public libraries stand out as one of the few community institutions that can address the computing and information needs of all kinds of users, from seniors who have never touched a keyboard to young entrepreneurs launching a new eBusinesses strategy.