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Broadband in Libraries: Reducing Barriers to Access; Providing Access to Jobs

March 26th, 2010 by John Horrigan - Consumer Research Director, Ombnibus Broadband Initiative.

Today’s news has several nuggets on the importance of libraries in the broadband access ecosystem. The University of Washington released a study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that found that 77 million people – or one-third of Americans over the age of 14 – have used public library computer or wireless network to go online at some point. Some 40% of library computer users sought help with career needs and 37% looked for information about health issues.

Another news item underscored the importance of Internet access at libraries in the current economic climate. The Baltimore Sun has a story on proposed budget cuts for the City of Baltimore since, like many cities around the country, the recession is forcing Baltimore to tighten its belt. However, the city’s libraries are “largely untouched” from proposed cutbacks because library use has increased by 20% in the past year. Much of this increase is attributed to unemployed people using library to look for and apply for jobs. As FCC research shows, 60% of broadband users have gone online to apply or look for a job – and 73% of those not currently employed have done this.

All of this is very consistent with research the FCC commissioned from the Social Science Research Council to better understand adoption barriers among low-income Americans. A key finding of that research is that library resources have come under stress during the recession as people come there to apply for jobs or carry out other important tasks.

The National Broadband Plan recognizes the important role libraries play in access. The Plan recommends that Congress consider providing additional funds to the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences to improve connectivity, enhance hardware, and train personnel of libraries and other community based organizations. Libraries serve not only as a crucial resource for access, but they also provide an environment where new broadband users can acquire the skills to take advantage of the range of online resources.

2 Responses to “Broadband in Libraries: Reducing Barriers to Access; Providing Access to Jobs”

  1. Jim Tobias says:

    Thanks for the reference to the excellent study -- it really gives the reader a flavor of who the "public users" are, and what they use it for. I'm glad Baltimore made the right decision.

    I notice that the Univ. of Washington did not report on disability status, although they included a question about work disability. I've asked the authors for that information.

  2. Jim Tobias says:

    I heard back from Samantha Becker, one of the authors of the UW paper: "...approximately 7.4% of people who use library computers or wireless networks report having a disability that prevents them from working."

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