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May 2010

What’s New · How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries

Newspapers across the country, including the Cincinnati Enquirer, reported on the findings of a recent study that examined the ways people use Internet access in public libraries. The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by the University of Washington Information School, gathered information through a telephone survey, in-person interviews with Library patrons at four public libraries, and an online survey completed by 45,000 people using public library computers. The study found that Internet access is now one of the most sought after public library services and was used by 45% of the 169 million public library visitors over the past year. More than three-quarters of those using a public library’s Internet access had Internet access at home, work or elsewhere. 77 million people age 14 or older used the Internet at a public library (32% of the US population).

Although the report found that people of all ages, races, incomes and educational levels were using library computers for a variety of reasons, usage was highest among those living below the poverty line. 44% of people living in households below the poverty line turned to the Library for Internet access. The percentage climbed to 61% for young adults (14-24) living in households below the poverty line. The study ranked key uses of library computers with social connections highest at 60%. Education was close behind at 42%, employment 40%, health and wellness 37%, government and legal 34%, community engagement 33%, managing finances 25% and entrepreneurship 7%. The report includes a number of recommendations primarily urging inclusion of public libraries in a range of initiatives from broadband deployment to economic and workforce development strategies. The full report and a much shorter executive summary can be found on the Gates Foundation website.