Opportunity for All How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries

The rapid adoption of the Internet and computing technologies by all sectors of modern society has made them an indispensable part of our daily work and life. Yet not all individuals have consistent access to these resources—they may be unable to afford them, they may need basic training in how to use them, or they may be displaced from their normal access points.

Fortunately, public libraries have taken on the role as the provider of free public access to the Internet and computers for those who are not able to gain access elsewhere, for whatever reason. Whether it’s a business traveler who needs to check his or her office email when out of town or a homeless person who has no other means for finding social services to meet his or her needs, all Americans can count on the public library in their community for access to the Internet and computers, supported by staff trained to help users be successful in their interactions. This access has also proven to be critical in times of disaster, where libraries may be the only access point still operating that can provide a delivery point for government and social services to those displaced.

The results of this study clearly show that public libraries are a key element of America’s digital infrastructure, and that large numbers of people are using libraries’ public access services to meet their needs in health, education, employment, and other important areas. But it also shows that beyond the Internet connections and computers that libraries provide to make this possible, the one-on-one help and other resources librarians, library staff, and volunteers provide to the users is an important element in the success of these services.

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