Report on libraries and broadband in 2009


Thanks to Mary Mehsikomer for the heads up on a recent report by the ALA, the State of Technology and Funding in U.S. Public Libraries in 2009.

I should disclose that I’m a former librarian, so I have my biases – but I’ve also seen the long lines in the library as patrons wait for their turn on the computer and on the Internet.

Blandin on Broadband offers information on broadband use, access, and trends especially in rural Minnesota. Sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and their Broadband Initiative.

Some of the quick facts from the report:

  • 71% of public libraries report that they are the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities;

  • 80% of libraries provide hands-on assistance to patrons for understanding and using egovernment resources – up 6% from the previous year;

  • 90% of libraries offer formal or informal technology assistance to library users; and

  • 80% of libraries do not have enough computers to meet patron demand at all times of the day.

  • In 2004 18% of libraries provided wireless access to the Internet; in 2009 that number increased to 76%

One of the points made in the report is that the library not only provides broadband access, it teaches people how to use it. I don’t think that point can be stressed too much. Librarians teach patrons how to access, assess and use information. That role is shifting as broadband brings more applications into the library. I think of a story I tracked a while back of theCupertino Library’s JobView kiosk. I’m sure that the librarians there are helping patrons use the video aspects of the kiosk to participate in remote interviews. But they’re also reminding straighten their ties and have the résumé in hand before the webcam is turned on.

But they are expected to increasingly do more with less. They are open fewer hours, they don’t have enough computers (never mind broadband) to keep up with demand and the demand is increasing. Librarians are worried about meeting the demands of tomorrow.

I’m heading to the Minnesota Library Association meeting in St Cloud later this week. It will be interesting to hear how broadband is brought up there.