Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 14, 2014

Libraries are likely partners for community digital inclusion efforts: read the reports

The American Library Association recently released a comprehensive study on digital inclusion efforts in libraries – including public access to broadband. Two of my passions in one study – nerd heaven!

The report is a good reminder of the role that libraries can and do play with digital inclusion. And in my experience as a Reference Librarian and someone who has done tech training in libraries as recently as this summer, the folks who forget about the library are the folks who don’t need it. The people on the far edge of the digital divide know about libraries. Maybe not everyone on the edge of the digital divide thinks library – but I can tell you a lot do. (Last year a report indicated that 91 percent of Americans 16 and older think libraries are important.)

So if everyone thinks it’s important why am I writing about it? Why are they doing research? Because all libraries are not created equal. Government Technology highlights the urban-rural difference…

The study, conducted in conjunction with the Information Policy and Access Center at the University of Maryland and the International City/County Management Association and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, found that cities still fair far better when it comes to broadband — they report an average subscribed download speed of more than 100Mbps, compared to an average subscribed download speed of just over 21Mbps for rural public libraries.

“Fully 10 percent of libraries still have broadband speeds of 1.5Mbps or slower, but for rural libraries that number is closer to 1-in-5,” said Larra Clark, director of the ALA’s program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century. “That is completely inadequate to support multiple public computers, public Wi-Fi, and downloadable digital content.”

If libraries are going to support all students, all businesses, all residents then all libraries need adequate access – and that’s not 21 Mbps. That make take funding – extra funding to reach remote areas.

Also if libraries are going to help lead the push for digital inclusion then maybe librarians need a chair at the table where this is getting discussed SO for community leaders – remember to invite the librarians. Also to provide digital inclusion services, the libraries need to be open and they need to have training necessary to serve and train their patrons.

One of the biggest hurdles I hear about with local and community technology training is getting people to attend the sessions. Likely attendees are already at the library – seems like a good place to build

Also I think it’s interesting to compare Minnesota libraries with National counterparts so I’m including that info from the report too…

Public Access Technology and Infrastructure & Broadband
Mean Download speed: 23.8 Mbps (MN) / 57.4 Mbps (US)
Minimum Download Speed: 0.7 Mbps (MN) /0.1 Mbps (US)
Maximum Download Speed: 400 Mbps (MN) /3000 Mbps (US)
WiFi Availability: 98.7% (MN) /97.5% (US)
Libraries that would like to increase bandwidth: 46.9% (MN) /66.1% (US)
Mean number of public access computers/laptops: 12.4 (MN) /19.8 (US)
Patrons experience wait time for public access computers: 14.7% (MN) /35.9% (US)
Technology Services for Patron Use
Databases: 100.0% (MN) /100.0% (US)
E-books: 99.1% (MN) / 89.5% (US)
Online homework assistance (e.g., tutor.com): 97.4% (MN) / 96.5% (US)
Online job/employment resources (e.g., Brainfuse, JobNow): 98.9% (MN) / 95.6% (US)
Mobile apps to access library services and resources: 43.7% (MN) / 42.6% (US)
Digital Literacy/Public Access Technology Training 
 Formal Training: 97.5% (MN) / 98.0% (US)
General computer skills: 81.6% (MN) / 91.4% (US)
General familiarity with new technologies (e.g., using e-readers, tablets): 38.2% (MN) / 67.5% (US)
Social media (e.g., blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube): 19.1% (MN) / 58.5% (US)
Library Programs, Information Sessions, & Events 
Education Programs: 100.0% (MN) / 99.5% (US)
Basic literacy: 34.5% (MN) / 33.2% (US)
GED or equivalent education: 29.6% (MN) / 26.5% (US)
Summer reading: 98.7% (MN) / 97.5% (US)
Economy and Workforce Development Programs: 95.9% (MN) / 99.6% (US)
Applying for job: 73.3% (MN) / 73.5% (US)
Entrepreneurship and small business development: 60.9% (MN) / 47.3% (US)
Accessing and using online business information resources: 54.4% (MN) / 56.1% (US)
Civic Engagement Programs: 61.4% (MN) / 74.1% (US)
Hosting community engagement events (e.g., candidate forums, community conversations): 44.4% (MN) / 45.6% (US)
Hosting creation events (e.g, maker spaces): 20.3% (MN) / 21.4% (US)
Completing government forms on-line: 97.7% (MN) / 98.6% (US)


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