Nearly one third of Americans age 14 or older — roughly 77 million people — used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, acording to the national report Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, released on March 25.
Conducted by the University of Washinton Information School, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the report is the first large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives.
Interestingly, more than three-quarters of those who used the library Internet connections had access to a computer at work, home or elsewhere, but needed a faster connection, assistance from a librarian, or temporary access in an emergency.
It was found that the use of library technology had significant impact in the areas of employment, education, health and making community connections.
Speaking from my observations at the Jefferson Township Public Library, I can say that I’ve seen many people every day using our 13 public access computers to search for jobs, download college course schedules, fill out unemployment forms, research medical conditions, and signup for library programs online. Many more come to the library, which is a wireless hotspot, to work on their laptop computers.
The report findings are based on nearly 50,000 surveys from patrons of more than 400 public libraries across the country. The full report is available at http://tascha.washington.edu/usimpact.