WASHINGTON, June 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new report finds America's public libraries posted gains in provision of public computer and Internet resources. Libraries nationwide report they've seen an increase in public use of online services, particularly to support job seeking and e-government transactions, and have made some gains in adding public computers and improving Internet connections available to patrons. However, snowballing funding cuts at state and local levels are forcing thousands of libraries to literally lock away access to these resources as they reduce operating hours.
The national 2010 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study provides data on job and career resources, as well as tracking a significant jump in e-government use. From unemployment benefits to state tax forms, more government information and services are moving online, often without a print alternative. Responding to growing demand from people for assistance using these new forms of government services, nearly 79 percent of libraries (up from 54 percent one year ago) provide assistance to patrons applying for or accessing government services, according to the report released today by the American Library Association.
"Healthy public libraries play a vital role in ensuring digital opportunity for all," said ALA President Camila Alire. "This report is a message to elected leaders as they balance budgets: today's libraries are an essential service for accessing workforce and government services. Whether you are a laid-off factory worker using a computer for the first time or a tech-savvy entrepreneur using library databases for market research, libraries connect people of all backgrounds to the resources they need." One in five libraries are partnering with other government and non-profit agencies to provide e-government services.
Public access to these resources, however, is increasingly limited in many communities. Nearly 15 percent of libraries (or roughly 2,400 locations) report reduced operating hours, with urban libraries leading the trend with nearly one-quarter reporting fewer hours in 2009. More than half (55 percent) of urban libraries report funding cuts between FY2009 and FY2010.
Cuts come as the economic recession has placed libraries at the forefront for today's job seekers. Eighty-eight percent of libraries provide free access to job databases and other job services, and 67 percent report library staff helped patrons complete online job applications. Libraries also provide access to civil service exam materials (75 percent) and software to help patrons create resumes and other employment materials (69 percent).
"The local career center is overflowing, so they send people to the library. People are going to school as part of the displaced worker program. They need help registering and checking their grades. There is bigger and bigger demand," said Lexington-Henderson County (Tenn.) Everett Horn Public Library Director Dinah Harris. Nationally, sixty-two percent of unemployed people used their public library last year.
The 2010 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study also finds that:
- 67 percent of libraries report they are the only provider of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities;
- Public computer use was up last year for 76 percent of all libraries;
- 89 percent of libraries provide technology training to patrons, including classes in computer skills, software use and online job-seeking;
- 82 percent of libraries provide Wi-Fi access;
- A majority of libraries offer Internet services ranging from subscription databases (95 percent) to online homework resources (88 percent) to ebooks (66 percent); and
- 66 percent of libraries provide assistance to patrons completing government forms.
"Computer and Internet access at public libraries connects millions of Americans to economic, educational, and social opportunity each year, but libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and provide the high-speed Internet connections patrons need," said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "As demand for these services rise, public and private investment to support public access technology at libraries is more critical than ever."
Conducted by the ALA and the Center for Library & Information Innovation at the University of Maryland, the study provides a "state of the library" report on the technology resources brokered by libraries and the funding that enables free public access to these resources. The study features the most current national and state data available on technology access and funding in U.S. public libraries.
The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ALA, can be found online at www.ala.org/plinternetfunding.
The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. www.ala.org
The Center for Library & Information Innovation at the University of Maryland (UMCP) develops, promotes, and supports innovative library and information services, practices, librarianship, and information professions through action research that focuses on the technology, information, policy, societal, and cultural contributions of libraries and information organizations (e.g., government agencies, health care organizations, educational institutions) to the communities and individuals that they serve. http://clii.umd.edu
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at www.gatesfoundation.org or join the conversation at Facebook and Twitter.
SOURCE American Library Association