New study on public library connectivity
American Library Association writes "Internet use at public libraries flourishes but technical, financial support lags CHICAGO — Ever-growing patron demand for computer and Internet servicesin U.S. public libraries has stretched existing Internet bandwidth, computeravailability, and building infrastructure to capacity, according to a new study "Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & TechnologyAccess Study 2006-2007," [PDF] conducted by the American Library Association(ALA) and the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at FloridaState University (FSU). The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ALA, found thatmore than 73 percent of libraries report they are the only source of freepublic access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Surveyedlibraries said that the top three Internet services most critical to theircommunity are online educational resources and databases for K-12 students(67.7 percent); services for job seekers (44 percent); and computer andInternet skills training (29.8 percent). The Washoe County Library System's Community Resource Center in Nevadahelped Stephanie D'Arcy, who hadn't had full-time employment for severalmonths, successfully get a job with the local parks and recreationdepartment. "I needed guidance," D'Arcy said. "The library staff offered meencouragement and assistance filling out the application, including pointingout transferable skills I could list, plus some tips for interviewing. If it werenot for the library's help, I wouldn't be where I am today." A growing number of U.S. employers are recruiting online. Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of the top 100 U.S. retailers accept online applicationsfor hourly positions, up from 41 percent in 2004, and 16 percent only acceptonline applications, according to a 2006 study from Taleo Research, whichanalyzes best practices and economics of human resources management. "Today, most businesses and organizations use the Internet as a primarymethod of finding and interacting with job applicants," said Alice Snell, vicepresident of Taleo Research. "But I frequently hear from retailers concernedthat potential applicants may not be able to apply for jobs online becausethey lack Internet access. One of the things I tell them is that all publiclibraries offer free access to computers and online information." Libraries offer a range of support to job seekers including assistancesearching for jobs, technology training, writing rÃ©sumÃ©s and cover letters,filling out online job applications, and establishing e-mail accounts so theycan monitor the status of their applications. "Today's public libraries are thriving technology hubs that millions rely on fortheir first or only choice for Internet access," said ALA President LorieneRoy. "I often hear from library staff that more and more users are turning tothe library for help with online employment applications. One thing is clear: inorder for our public libraries to continue to meet the changing needs of ourcommunities and to expand services, we must invest in facilities and staffingthat can support technology for all." Nearly 100 percent of public libraries offer free public access to the Internet.However, despite increased patron demand for technology services, librarieshave not seen a corresponding increase in their budgets. As a result, manylibraries are challenged to provide enough computers or fast-enoughconnection speeds to meet community need. In fact, more than 58 percentof libraries reported that they have no plans to add computers in the comingyear; less than half (46 percent) plan to replace computers. Internet accessspeeds are inadequate for a majority of libraries (52 percent). Thousands of libraries across the country also have reached, or are nearing,their maximum capacity for space. Seventy-six percent of public librariesreported that space limitations are the top factor affecting their ability to addcomputers, while 31 percent of libraries report that the availability ofelectrical outlets, space for cabling and other infrastructure issues limitedtheir capacity for technology infrastructure. "Millions of Americans rely on their public library to find jobs, further theireducation, learn English, get e-government information, and more," said AllanGolston, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's U.S. Program. "Ournation must continue to support public libraries and ensure they are able toprovide information and opportunities for all people." The Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study collected data throughsurveys from more than 4,000 public libraries, more than 40 Chief Officers ofState Library Agencies, and focus groups and site visits in Delaware,Maryland, Nevada and Utah. To view the final report, please visitwww.ala.org/plinternetfunding. ### The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library associationin the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote thehighest quality library and information services and public access toinformation. www.ala.org The Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida StateUniversity conducts research that focuses on the information user, and theinteraction of the user with information products, services, policies,technologies, and organizations. Of special interest is the planning andevaluation of networked and other information services. The Institute alsoconducts information policy research on current issues at Federal and statelevels related to public access, privacy, records management, and use ofinformation in electronic forms as well as other topics. www.ii.fsu.edu Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda GatesFoundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. Indeveloping countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving themthe chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In theUnited States, it seeks to ensure that all people — especially those with thefewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeedin school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO PattyStonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill andMelinda Gates and Warren Buffett."