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

American Library Association | PR Newswire

September 16, 2009

While libraries across the country have reported significant spikes in patron usage over the past 12-18 months, many are struggling to maintain hours and staffing levels to meet demand as funding cuts at the state and local level loom large. Forty-four percent of states reported declines in state funding for public libraries in FY2009 — in some cases as much as 25 or 30 percent. Fourteen percent of libraries reported FY2009 declines.

“Libraries serve as community technology centers for millions of Americans every day,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the U.S. Libraries Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a funder of the study. “But their role during the current downturn emphasizes how important it is for local communities to fund and sustain high-quality online access at their libraries so it’s available for all people when they need it most.”

To meet growing demand, many library agencies are applying for federal stimulus funds through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which would help enable libraries to strategically address Internet infrastructure, hardware and patron needs. With the BTOP emphasis on community partnerships, libraries also are ideal public partners with telecom companies and other government agencies. Nearly 60 percent of libraries report Internet connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron demand at some point in the day.

Additional key findings on the state of Internet availability in public libraries include:

  • More than 90 percent of public libraries provide technology training such as online job-seeking and career-related classes, general Internet and computer use instruction;
  • 76 percent of public libraries offer free wireless access; and
  • 81 percent of public libraries report there are not enough public Internet computers to meet patron demand some or all of the time; increasingly, libraries are having trouble replacing outdated computer workstations due to cost.

The Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study is conducted by the ALA; the University of Maryland (UMCP); and Florida State University (FSU). The study, funded by the ALA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers the most current data available on technology access and funding in U.S. public libraries. To view the final report, visit www.ala.org/plinternetfunding.

SOURCE American Library Association


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