ALA
Contact:  
Macey Morales
ALA Media Relations
312-280-4393
mmorales@ala.org  
 
For Immediate Release
September 12, 2007

 

Public libraries are sole source of online employment and education information for millions of Americans   

Internet use at public libraries flourishes but technical, financial support lags 

CHICAGO – Ever-growing patron demand for computer and Internet services in U.S. public libraries has stretched existing Internet bandwidth, computer availability, and building infrastructure to capacity, according to a new study “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007,” conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University (FSU).

The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ALA, found that more than 73 percent of libraries report they are the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Surveyed libraries said that the top three Internet services most critical to their community are online educational resources and databases for K-12 students (67.7 percent); services for job seekers (44 percent); and computer and Internet skills training (29.8 percent).

The Washoe County Library System's Community Resource Center in Nevada helped Stephanie D'Arcy, who hadn't had full-time employment for several months, successfully get a job with the local parks and recreation department. "I needed guidance," D'Arcy said. "The library staff offered me encouragement and assistance filling out the application, including pointing out transferable skills I could list, plus some tips for interviewing. If it were not for the library's help, I wouldn't be where I am today."  

A growing number of U.S. employers are recruiting online. Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of the top 100 U.S. retailers accept online applications for hourly positions, up from 41 percent in 2004, and 16 percent only accept online applications, according to a 2006 study from Taleo Research, which analyzes best practices and economics of human resources management.

“Today, most businesses and organizations use the Internet as a primary method of finding and interacting with job applicants,” said Alice Snell, vice president of Taleo Research. “But I frequently hear from retailers concerned that potential applicants may not be able to apply for jobs online because they lack Internet access. One of the things I tell them is that all public libraries offer free access to computers and online information.”

Libraries offer a range of support to job seekers including assistance searching for jobs, technology training, writing résumés and cover letters, filling out online job applications, and establishing e-mail accounts so they can monitor the status of their applications.

"Today's public libraries are thriving technology hubs that millions rely on for their first or only choice for Internet access," said ALA President Loriene Roy. "I often hear from library staff that more and more users are turning to the library for help with online employment applications. One thing is clear: in order for our public libraries to continue to meet the changing needs of our communities and to expand services, we must invest in facilities and staffing that can support technology for all."

Nearly 100 percent of public libraries offer free public access to the Internet. However, despite increased patron demand for technology services, libraries have not seen a corresponding increase in their budgets. As a result, many libraries are challenged to provide enough computers or fast-enough connection speeds to meet community need. In fact, more than 58 percent of libraries reported that they have no plans to add computers in the coming year; less than half (46 percent) plan to replace computers. Internet access speeds are inadequate for a majority of libraries (52 percent).

Thousands of libraries across the country also have reached, or are nearing, their maximum capacity for space. Seventy-six percent of public libraries reported that space limitations are the top factor affecting their ability to add computers, while 31 percent of libraries report that the availability of electrical outlets, space for cabling and other infrastructure issues limited their capacity for technology infrastructure.

“Millions of Americans rely on their public library to find jobs, further their education, learn English, get e-government information, and more,” said Allan Golston, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program. “Our nation must continue to support public libraries and ensure they are able to provide information and opportunities for all people.”

The Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study collected data through surveys from more than 4,000 public libraries, more than 40 Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, and focus groups and site visits in Delaware, Maryland, Nevada and Utah. To view the final report, please visit www.ala.org/plinternetfunding.

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The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. www.ala.org  

The Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University  conducts research that focuses on the information user, and the interaction of the user with information products, services, policies, technologies, and organizations. Of special interest is the planning and evaluation of networked and other information services. The Institute also conducts information policy research on current issues at Federal and state levels related to public access, privacy, records management, and use of information in electronic forms as well as other topics. www.ii.fsu.edu 

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people -- especially those with the fewest resources -- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.