Libraries and broadband are closing the gap


by Ann Treacy| March 20, 2009 • In the last week I have seen several great articles about computer and/or broadband use in the library – mostly in the public library – making the case that for an increasing number of people, the library is THE place to get online and to learn how to use online tools.

Most recently, The Institute of Museum and Library Services released a report (Libraries Use Broadband Internet Service to Serve High Need Communities) that details the need for broadband in libraries. Here are the two points I found most compelling:

*In 2007, 88% of public libraries in high poverty areas provided access to broadband Internet and 73% of public libraries reported their facilities as being the only source of free Internet access in their community.

*Availability of Internet terminals in public libraries increased by more than 600% in from 1998 to 2006. I’d add that if you’ve been in a public library, especially once school gets out you know – there still aren’t enough computers.

A more passionate, less statistical article I read last week from Palo Alto (The ‘library of the future’ begins to emerge) paints of picture of what libraries are becoming, “Gone are the days of dusty shelves, cellophane-protected book covers and librarians who say “shush.” Experts predict libraries in the future will be more akin to community and cultural centers and gathering places for services, education and collaboration.”

The article talks about resources available for job seekers, such as the Cupertino Library’s JobView kiosk, where job seekers can create videos to apply for jobs. It talks about how libraries often are the connection not only the tools, but the librarians have become teachers. It’s been a long time since I sat a reference desk – but even 12 years ago, and even working at a college library, most of what I was doing was teaching information literacy skills – how to find and recognize good info. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a Master’s degree in Library and information Science. So I love libraries.)

More locally, the Winona Daily News just published an article on their local library as a place to get online, get job skills, hang out and save money by borrowing books and videos rather than buying. They are dealing with a shrinking budget for the library and the article promotes a few local measures to raise funds – such as a book sale and concert.

The feds are also coming up with ways to get money to the libraries and we’ve seen in the economic stimulus package. The question is whether it will be enough – and who will get it. The America Library Association maintains a web site to help librarians stay on top of the opportunities.

I don’t want to give away any trade secrets but it seems like other industries or sectors should be getting as organized; the ALA has done a great job.