Friday, September 29, 2006

New report says public libraries can't keep up with online demand, need funding

FSU just released a study on Tuesday, Public Libraries and the Internet 2006, funded by ALA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that "99 percent of all U.S. public libraries provide free public access to computers wired to the Internet, compared to 25 percent 10 years ago.

Librarians overwhelmingly (71 percent) report that the most important impact of this service is providing Internet access to those who otherwise would not have it. This is the first time that impact has been quantified on a national scale."

The author of the report says that libraries are doing an incredible job serving people, but there is such a demand that it's very hard to keep up with computer upogrades, services and repairs. Here's a good story:

Appolonia Tovar, 17, does not have Internet access at home and relies on the computers at the Daniel Ruiz Branch of the Austin, Texas, Public Library.

"I spend most of my time each weekday at the library. My homework always consists of either research or typing an essay. Now that I'm a senior in high school, I am constantly online at the library researching colleges, scholarships, and even signing up for tests like the ACT,” Tovar said.

Austin Public Library’s Wired for Youth program provides computers and Internet access, classes, and mentorship for young people ages 8 - 17 from disadvantaged communities and teaches them how to use technology as a way of preparing for their future.

The Wired for Youth program is one example of how public libraries are thriving in the digital age. Yet nearly half (45 percent) of U.S. public libraries report no increase or a drop in program funding for 2006. With inflation, increased personnel and benefits costs, and a greater demand for technology enhancements, flat funding in many cases amounts to budget cuts which directly affect the quality of library services including the number of hours a library is open.

“If libraries can’t keep up with demand or make technological advancements, people who rely on the library for computer access will be increasingly disadvantaged and a new divide will emerge,” said Jill Nishi, manager of the U.S. Libraries initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s up to communities and library leaders to ensure that this inequity does not occur, and that libraries can provide quality technology services for generations to come.”

I have not read the report yet, but from the press release, it sounds like the findings confirm that libraries are doing their darndest to keep up with technology (you knew that), but they're not being adequately funded--publicly or privately--to meet the needs of many library users (you also suspected that).

It's great that public libraries are able to serve the people who do not have computer access at home, don't get me wrong. I just don't want us to also lose sight of the people who DO have computer access at home. Some of those people might be private's back to that age-old question: who do we build our library services for? The people we see every day or the people we WANT to see every day?


K.G. Schneider said...

Charles McClure himself has made the point in the past that libraries need to be places of FIRST resort as well as LAST resort. Those people you tag as possible "private funders" are, more significantly, voting taxpayers. Once they lose interest, there goes your tax base.

Alice said...

Exactly! Now how's that HDTV coming along?