ALA Report: Computer Demand Still Increases
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 09/03/2008
- Computer use surges; demand exceeds supply
- Libraries offer more digital services
- Bandwith issues remain
While the number of public access Internet computers grew for the first time in six years—12 per branch, up from 10.7 in a year—nearly 20% of public libraries say demand for computers exceeds supply all the time, while 63% say that occurs some of the time. And while the number of library visits grew 18.6% in five years, full-time staff increased just 6%.
Such increased demands on libraries are documented in “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2007–2008,” conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University (FSU), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The report found that 88% of libraries offer subscription databases, 83% provide online homework resources (up 15% in a year), 71% have audiobooks and podcasts, 62.5% include digital reference, and 52% supply ebooks. Meanwhile, 73% of libraries and 83% of rural libraries are their communities’ only source of free access to computers/Internet.
In an increase of 12% over a year ago, 66% of public libraries support free wireless access. However, because wireless service usually shares bandwidth with public workstations, connection speed slows during times of high demand.
Nearly two-thirds of public libraries provide 1.5Mbps or faster Internet speeds, with urban libraries (90%) far outpacing rural ones (51.5%). Still, nearly 58% of libraries consider their current connection speed insufficient, an increase of 5% from the previous year.
Some 74% of libraries report their staffers help patrons understand and use e-government services, including enrolling in Medicare and applying for unemployment. Indeed, a recent report by FSU researchers, “Florida Public Libraries and E–Government: Services, Issues, and Recommendations,” suggests that libraries have become more than simply access points to government information and forms but places where residents seek program assistance.