Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and Education
77 million people used library computers and Internet access in past year, nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older,used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year The report is based on the first, large-scale study (50,000 surveys from 400 public libraries) 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.
Low-income adults are more likely to rely on the public library as their sole access to computers and the Internet than any other income group. Overall, 44 percent of people living below the federal poverty line used computers and the Internet at their public libraries.
Americans across all age groups reported they used library computers and Internet access. Teenagers are the most active users. Half of the nation's 14- to 18-year-olds reported that they used a library computer during the past year, typically to do school homework.
The use of library technology had significant impact in four critical areas: employment, education, health, and making community connections. In the last 12 months:
o 40 percent of library computer users (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.
o 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.
o 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.
o 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.
The library's role as a technology resource has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent of libraries offered Internet access. Today, almost all public libraries offer visitors free access to computers and the Internet. Unfortunately, up to a third of all libraries say they lack even minimally adequate Internet connections to meet demand. More report that they cannot provide the access their patrons truly need.
University of Washington Information School. (2010). Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries.