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Libraries on Frontline of Connecting Americans With Online Government, Job Resources

American Library Association | PR Newswire

September 16, 2009

CHICAGO, Sept. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — With national unemployment topping 9 percent and many Americans seeking online information and new technology skills that can help keep them and their families afloat in hard times, U.S. public libraries are first responders in a time of economic uncertainty.

“Libraries Connect Communities 3: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008-2009,” a new report released today by the American Library Association (ALA), says libraries are serving as crucial technology hubs for people in need of free Web access, computer training, and assistance finding and using E-Government and job resources.

The study finds that more than 71 percent of all libraries report they are the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Sixty-six percent of public libraries rank job-seeking services among the most crucial online services they offer — up from 44 percent two years ago.

When county workforce development agency DavidsonWorks (N.C.) was investigating ways to better serve displaced workers, it looked to the Davidson County Library System for support. “The numbers of people that need services are larger than our capacity,” said Executive Director Nancy Borrell. “The library is a natural partner — they are located in all corners of the county and have the space, computers and trained library staff we need. We’re reaching areas of the county we’ve never been able to reach before.”

More people also are turning to libraries to file unemployment forms, apply for Food Stamps or find other government information or services. Eighty percent of libraries report helping patrons connect with government information and services online.

“For anyone without a computer, you’re really out of luck without the library,” said Elsie Werdin, who spent almost two weeks trying to get the information she needed to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan. With assistance from Pasco County Library System (Fla.) staff, she was able to complete an online enrollment form in less than 30 minutes. The Pasco library provided e-government services to more than 9,100 people from October 2008 to March 31, 2009, up 177 percent from one year ago.

“Libraries are part of the solution for Americans struggling to regain their footing in uncertain economic times. Most jobs, and many government services, require that people fill out online applications at a time when many people lack home Internet access and the necessary online search, software or even basic keyboard skills,” said ALA President Camila Alire. “Investing in our libraries is key to ensuring every person has access to vital online information and resources.”

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