Study: Libraries Help Job Seekers, Others Through Free Internet Access

Broadband Updates, Broadband's Impact, FCC, Universal Service June 25th, 2010

, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2010 – Public libraries are key resources for job seekers, researchers and others thanks to their position in the community as an access point to the internet, says a new study from the American Library Association.

“Virtually every U.S. public library provides public access to computers and the internet, and two-thirds of libraries report that they are the only free public connection point in their communities for these services,” says the study, “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2009-2010.”

One of the groups most likely to utilize library access are job seekers, largely due to the free access to internet job search engines provided by library computers.

According to the study, 67 percent of public libraries are the only provider of free public access to computers and the internet in their communities, and because of price barriers to broadband adoption, libraries are overwhelmingly the only source of basic computer services that can be provided free of charge.

The data show that 88 percent of libraries provide free access to job databases and other job opportunity resources and 73.6 percent said that the most important function of libraries was to provide aid to job seekers.

The study’s authors argue that this is a case for increased support of libraries, because “at a minimum, patrons need access to workstations and an internet connection to apply for jobs, but this also requires basic computer skills, both information technology and Internet literacy to successfully navigate and use online information, and access to educational resources to meet employment requirements.”

Having made the case for libraries as internet access points, the study outlines the present funding landscape for libraries, and attempts to make the case for improvement in the area. Though the study implies that library funding has broadly been cut, it adds, “some technology-related expenditures (technology staff, outside vendors, hardware/software, and telecommunications) have escaped reductions.”

Other study highlights:

Libraries report a greater number of internet computers available to the public with 14.2 on average per library branch, which is an increase from the 11 a year ago;

82 percent of libraries provide wi-fi access;

Close to one-quarter of all libraries improved internet connection speeds last year, often aided by e-rate discounts;

Public computer and wi-fi use increased last year for more than 70 percent of all libraries;

21 percent of libraries partner with government agencies to provide e-government services; and

54.8 percent of libraries expect their operating budgets to remain the same, 26.6 percent expect their operating budgets to decrease, and 13.3 percent expect budgets to increase. Within libraries where funding was cut, the study notes that most of the losses have accrued in salaries, benefits and the hiring of specialized collection employees but not advances in technology.

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