The 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey marks twenty years of data collection about the Internet and public libraries. The study is conducted annually by the American Library Association and the University of Maryland’s Information Policy & Access Center. This year’s results showed consistent trends in the increase of public technology service offerings in U.S. public libraries. Some key findings include:
- Virtually all libraries (98 percent) offer free public Wi-Fi access—in 1994 only 21 percent offered public Internet access;
- Close to 90 percent of libraries offer basic digital literacy training, and a significant majority support training related to new technology devices (62 percent), safe online practices (57 percent), and social media use (56 percent);
- Seventy-six percent of libraries assist patrons in using online government programs and services;
- The vast majority of libraries provide programs that support people in applying for jobs (73 percent), access and using online job opportunity resources (68 percent), and using online business information resources (48 percent);
- More than 90 percent of public libraries offer e-books, online homework assistance (95 percent), and online language learning (56 percent).
The survey results show the average public library was built around 1970, which predates the digital age. This is a major limitation in updating buildings to meet community technology needs. The survey analysis suggests that “libraries are significantly more likely to offer certain types of services to patrons, including new and emerging technology activities, if their buildings have been constructed or renovated within the last five years.”
Public library spaces will need to adapt to these changes in order to meet the needs of their communities. According to the survey, “One in five libraries reported renovations in the last five years, with city libraries more than twice as likely (33 percent) to report this than rural libraries (15 percent).”
“Those who receive formal digital literacy training were significantly more likely to use the internet to pursue economic opportunities and cultivate social ties. Those who received formal training were fifteen percentage points more likely to use the internet to look for a job,” observed Internet researcher John Horrigan, as cited in the Digital Inclusion Survey Executive Summary.
What is Digital Inclusion?
Digital inclusion has three main prongs:
- Understanding the benefits of advanced information and communication technologies.
- Equitable and affordable access to high-speed Internet-connected devices and online content.
- Taking advantage of the educational, economic, and social opportunities available through these technologies.
In addition to offering public technology services and programs, raising awareness is a key aspect of digital inclusion. The ALA has also created tools to help tell the digital inclusion story. Downloadable infographics are available for librarians to share 2014 data on social media and with stakeholders. Specific state-by-state information is available as well as an interactive national map with data visualization tools.
Public libraries play a vital role in advancing the cause of digital inclusion. Providing public technology, broadband connections, and wireless services are key to bridging the digital divide. The basic technology assistance and programs most libraries provide are vital services as demonstrated by the survey results. Public libraries are the place in the community where the physical world and the virtual world interface as an entry point.
“Today libraries are less about what we have than what we can do with and for our patrons,” ALA President Sari Feldman said in a recent press release. “As community demands shift, libraries are transforming.”
Gravatt, Nancy. 2015. “2014 Digital Inclusion Survey Results Released.” American Library Association. Accessed Jan. 3, 2016.
“Digital Inclusion Survey.” American Library Association. Accessed Jan. 3, 2016.