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Public Library Buildings

 
 
 

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The public access technology, resources, and services provided by public libraries are essential for those without access or the ability to use technologies and information resources. Small libraries, or those that have not been updated recently, are less likely to provide increasingly critical digital services and resources in key areas of instruction and programs — creating an access, skills, and use divide. 

The average opening year of U.S. public libraries is 1970, with a range of 1965 for Town libraries and 1975 for City libraries. Just 21.3% of public libraries reported being renovated in the last five years, with 33.4% of City libraries and only 14.8% of rural libraries indicating renovations to their buildings in the last five years.  Slightly over 60% (61.9%) of libraries rate their building adequacy as good or excellent in terms of general use space, and a majority — 53.8% — report that their electric supply and network capacity are good or excellent. Nearly an equal percentage of libraries report that their availability of meeting rooms is good or excellent (50.4%) or poor/fair (49.3%). A vast majority of libraries, however, report that their buildings are poor or fair in terms of the adequacy of maker spaces (87.6%) or work/office spaces for business users (79.1%). 

When public libraries did renovate their buildings in the last five years, 72.3% upgraded the physical plant (e.g., electric supply, electric outlets), 68.7% enhanced their general use space, and 49.7% enhanced/added meeting room space. Just 11.9% enhanced or added maker spaces and 19.0% enhanced/added work/office spaces for business users.

Among other factors that may contribute to the ability of public libraries to build digitally inclusive and ready communities, library size and its facilities play a role.  Although nearly all public libraries provide a baseline of access to technology, broadband, Wi-Fi, technology instruction, and programs, small libraries and those not renovated in the last five years are less likely to provide various technology-enabled services and resources.

Many public libraries offer a range of technology training courses, however, there are differences by library size. For example:

  • 91.5% of large libraries offer general computer use training, versus 72.7% of very small libraries;[1]
  • 67.6 % of large libraries offer training of social media, versus 41.8% of very small libraries; and
  • 79.1% of large libraries offer training on familiarity with new technologies. 

 

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Public Library Technology Training by Library Size. Source: 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey.

 

The type of training -- formal, at the point of need, or by appoinment -- also differs by library size, with larger libraries more likely to offer formal training: 

  • 63.9% of large libraries that offer general computer use training do so via formal training classes, versus only 23.8% of very small libraries;
  • 63.2% of large libraries that offer social media training do so via formal training classes, versus only 17.9% of very small libraries; and
  • 64.7% of large libraries that offer training on general familiarity with new technologies do so via formal training classes, versus only 25.7% of very small libraries. 

 

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Public Library Technology Formal Training by Library Size. Source: 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey.

Conclusion

Among other likely factors (e.g., number of staff, funding), the recency of renovation and size of a library have an impact on the ability of public libraries to foster digital inclusion and readiness. With 70% of those 16 or older indicating that libraries should definitely or maybe move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for things such as tech centers, reading rooms, meetings rooms and cultural events,[2] there is a need to consider library space as part of public library digital inclusion efforts to ensure access and opportunity for all.

 

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


[1] Very Small = 2,500 sq. ft. or less; Small = 2,501-5,600 sq. ft.; Medium = 5,601-12,700 sq. ft.; Large = 12,701 sq. ft. or greater. These roughly correspond to square footage quartiles as reported in the FY2012 IMLS PLS Data File (the file used for drawing the 2014 Digital Inclusion survey sample) available at https://data.imls.gov/Public-Library-Survey-PLS-/Public-Library-Survey-FY-2012-Outlet/ewqs-tfck

[2] Horrigan, J.  (2015). Libraries at the Crossroads. Pew Research Center. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/2015/Libraries

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