WASHINGTON, March 25, 2010 - Millions of people rely on library computers for employment, health and education information, according to a study released Thursday.
Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older, or about 77 million people, used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to “Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries.”
In 2009, people faced a sour economy by relying on library technology to find work, applying for college, securing government benefits, learning about critical medical treatments and connecting with communities, according to the report’s findings.
The library’s role as a technology resource has exploded since 1996 when 28 percent of libraries offered internet access. Today, almost all public libraries offer visitors free access to computers and the internet.
“This study highlights what is at risk, particularly for low-income individuals who heavily rely on the public library for their technology, if future public and private investment in public libraries doesn’t keep pace with demand,” said Allan Golston, president of the United States Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The report was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The report found that in the last 12 months:
40 percent of library computer users, or an estimated 30 million people, received help with career needs. Among these users, 75 percent reported they searched for a job online. Half of these users filled out an online application or submitted a resume;
37 percent focused on health issues. The vast majority of these users (82 percent) logged on to learn about a disease, illness or medical condition. One-third of these users sought out doctors or health care providers. Of these, about half followed up by making appointments for care;
42 percent received help with educational needs. Among these users, 37 percent (an estimated 12 million students) used their local library computer to do homework for a class; and
Library computers linked patrons to their government, communities and civic organizations. Sixty-percent of users – 43.3 million people – used a library’s computer resources to connect with others.