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Ethan Gonzalez
Ethan Gonzalez

Public Library Funding Technology Access Study


Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012 assesses public access to computers, the Internet, and Internet-related services in U.S. public libraries, and the impact of library funding changes on connectivity, technology deployment, and sustainability. The study builds on the longest-running and largest study of Internet connectivity in public libraries begun in 1994 by John Carlo Bertot and Charles R. McClure.




public library funding technology access study



The report provides information that can help library directors and library IT staff benchmark and advocate for technology resources in communities across the nation. The data are also of importance for policymakers at local, state, and federal levels, manufacturers of information and communication technologies, and the communities served by public libraries.


The Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study was a multi-year project that assesses public access to computers, the Internet and Internet-related services in U.S. public libraries, as well as the impact of library funding changes on connectivity, technology deployment and sustainability.


Built on the longest-running and largest study of Internet connectivity in public libraries, begun in 1994 by John Carlo Bertot and Charles R. McClure, this study provides information that can help library directors and library IT staff benchmark and advocate for technology resources in communities across the nation. The data are also of importance for policymakers at local, state, and federal levels, manufacturers of information and communication technologies, and the communities served.


Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) updated U.S. policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost. In a memorandum to federal departments and agencies, Dr. Alondra Nelson, the head of OSTP, delivered guidance for agencies to update their public access policies as soon as possible to make publications and research funded by taxpayers publicly accessible, without an embargo or cost. All agencies will fully implement updated policies, including ending the optional 12-month embargo, no later than December 31, 2025.


In the short-term, agencies will work with OSTP to update their public access and data sharing plans by mid-2023. OSTP expects all agencies to have updated public access policies fully implemented by the end of 2025. This timeline gives agencies, researchers, publishers, and scholarly societies some flexibility on when to adapt to the new policies. Over the long term, OSTP will continue to coordinate with federal agencies to ensure that government public access policies adapt to new technologies and emerging needs.


TOP Grants are administered by the Tennessee State Library & Archives, a division of the Department of State, and supported by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. TOP Grants are available for public libraries to provide digital literacy training to the public, hotpots, solar charging stations, increase internet access at the library and for the Digital Navigators pilot project.


We have worked in partnership with governments and other public and private funders to expand technology access in public libraries, foster innovation in libraries, train library leaders, and advocate for policy changes that benefit public libraries.


The library field remains fragmented, with libraries across different countries and systems disconnected from one another. This lack of connection is detrimental to all libraries, leaving untapped so much knowledge that should be shared and so many opportunities to not only collaborate but also to take collective action on policy and regulatory challenges. The time is now, and every library can contribute to better collaboration by prioritizing openness and transparency, proactively making connections, and sharing ideas. By collaborating more closely to build and sustain a global network of public library leaders and organizations, libraries can learn from one another, solve shared problems, and spark ideas and innovations that will help them meet immediate and pressing community needs and look together to the future.


Collaboration with partners outside the library field is essential to the future sustainability of public libraries because it cements and promotes their ongoing relevance and helps secure a diverse funding base. This requires advocacy directed at government leaders who drive funding decisions, capitalizing on existing connections, identifying and networking in new circles of influence, and building and nurturing long-term relationships in fields like technology, economics, and health. In seeking partnerships that can lead to new sources of funding, library leaders must be prepared with relevant data to make the case for support. All partnerships can strengthen how libraries contribute to their communities if library leaders seek alignment on shared community priorities and are able to walk away when the fit is not right.


Worldwide, public libraries are uniquely positioned to provide this opportunity. Most countries have public libraries, and they are safe and trusted places with trained staff, existing infrastructure, and ongoing public financial support. As vital as they are, however, public libraries are often overlooked and underutilized. Libraries must have adequate and ongoing resources to keep up with ever-changing community needs. To reach their full potential as centers of learning, creativity, and community development, libraries need staff skilled in information technology, partners who provide services to users, and supportive networks that provide resources such as broadband connectivity.


The National Library Symbol was first designed in 1978 by Ralph E. DeVore of the Western Maryland Regional Library, and its first official appearance was in the 1982 ALA publication A Sign System for Libraries. The ALA Council endorsed the symbol, upon recommendation of the ALA Presidential Task Force on a National Library Symbol, at the 1982 ALA Annual Conference. The Task Force had specifically sought a standard symbol that could be used to identify all types of libraries, hoping to increase public awareness of the institution of libraries through the symbol's utilization on library directional signs and promotional materials.


Rural public libraries have been relatively understudied when compared to public libraries as a whole. Data are available to show that rural libraries lag behind their urban and suburban counterparts in technology service offerings, but the full meaning and impact of such disparities is unclear. The authors combine data from the Public Library Technology and Access Study with data from smaller studies to provide greater insight to these issues. By filtering these data through the Digital Inclusion framework, it becomes clear that disparities between rural and non-rural libraries are not merely a problem of weaker technological infrastructure. Instead, rural libraries cannot reach their full customer service potential because of lower staffing (but not lower staff dedication) and funding mechanisms that rely primarily on local monies. The authors suggest possible solutions to these disparities, while also discussing the barriers that must be overcome before such solutions can be implemented.


The FCC's E-Rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. With funding from the Universal Service Fund (fcc.gov/general/universal-service-fund), E-Rate provides discounts for telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries.


To find which schools and libraries in your area benefit from E-Rate, use USAC's search tools to view public E-rate data, including commitment and other funding tools, at usac.org/e-rate/resources/tools/.


We asked respondents if they had used the library in the past year for a variety of purposes, including research, book-borrowing, and periodicals like newspapers and magazines. Some 56% of those ages 16 and older said that they had used a public library at least once in the past year for one of the activities we queried:


Overall, women who read print books were significantly more likely to have borrowed a printed book from a library that men who read print books (54% vs. 41%). Those ages 16-17 who had read a printed book in the past year were the most likely to have borrowed a print book from their public library in that time, with 65% having done so. Adults ages 30-49 are the next likely group to check out print books (53% had done so). However, those older readers are somewhat more likely to be frequent borrowers, while 16-17 year olds are more likely to have borrowed print books five times or less. Parents are also more likely to check out print books than non-parents. The print book readers who have college degrees or live in households earning more than $75,000 were also more likely than others to have borrowed a printed book from a library and they went to the library more times than other book readers to borrow a book.


When it comes to technology, print book readers who use technology are more likely than others to have borrowed a print book from the library. Fully 50% of the internet users who read a print book in the past year borrowed a printed book in the same period, compared with 32% of non-internet users. Also, those who own e-readers were also more likely than non-owners to have borrowed a printed book from the library in the past year.


Among those who had listened to an audiobook in the year prior to the survey, 38% used a public library to borrow audiobooks. This works out to 4% of all those 16 and older. About half of these audiobook borrowers had done so five or fewer times.


E-book readers were the least likely to have borrowed that format from the library. As of December 2011, 12% of those who read e-books had borrowed or downloaded one from a public library in the year prior to the survey. This works out to 2% of all those 16 and older. About half of these e-book borrowers had borrowed an e-book five or fewer times in the past 12 months.


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