Public Libraries and Access

 
 
 

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The technology access, resources, and services provided by public libraries are essential for those who do not have high-speed Internet or computer access in their homes and for those who lack the technology and digital literacy skills to use the Internet-enabled services that can help them find jobs, interact with their government, or achieve their educational goals.

The advent of the World Wide Web created a new role for libraries – community access point for computers and the Internet. As the Internet became more widely used in the 1990s, public libraries embraced the role of providing access to and training for using the Internet and related technologies. 94% of public libraries offer either formal or informal technology training, including covering topics that include essential digital literacy skills. Libraries have also found new ways to support their communities through the Internet, including guaranteed access to E-government and assistance in emergencies and disasters.

As reported in 2012, 100% of public libraries now offer free public access to Internet-enabled workstations. As of 2014, 97.8% offer wireless Internet access (WiFi). This universal provision of Internet access demonstrates the commitment of public libraries to ensuring that communities have access. To that end, libraries across the country are providing a number of community access services:

  • 100% of libraries provide access to databases (2013); 
  • 95.3% to online homework assistance;
  • 90.3% to e-books; 
  • 76.8% to online health information resources; and 
  • 62.3% to online employment resources.

But libraries are increasingly limited in their ability to enhance their public access technology environment due to building capacity limitations. Renovated libraries (within the last five years) are more likely to offer a range of services, resources, and programs than non-renovated libraries - demonstrating the importance of updated physical space in providing access to digital services and enabling inclusion. Particularly notable is the impact of space on the provision of workspaces for mobile workers and health-related programs.

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More details on this topic are available in our Public Libraries & Access issue brief