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


Work data:

Type of work: Report


Digital Inclusion | ICT Infrastructure


Public libraries have provided free access to the Internet and computers since the 1990s. Libraries have also provided access to digital resources, databases, networked and virtual services, training, technical assistance, and technology-trained staff. However, little research has examined the relationship between free access to computers and outcomes that benefit individuals, families, and communities.

To better understand how the provision of free access to the Internet and computers in public libraries is impacting the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the United States, the Institute of Museum and Library Services issued a request for proposals for research targeted at documenting, describing and analyzing the use and results of this use in libraries throughout the nation.

“Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries” outlines the first part of the research, describing the characteristics of people who use public access computers and Internet connections, the types of use they engage in, and the impact that use has on their own lives, that of their families and friends, and the communities they live in. A second report will follow which examines the effect of library characteristics and policies on public access computing use and impact, as a first step toward helping libraries understand how some of their services may be affecting the overall success of their efforts in providing public access services to their communities.

The results of “Opportunity for All” clearly show that public libraries are a key element of America’s digital infrastructure, and that large numbers of people are using their 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.

The U.S. IMPACT Public Library Study also provides new, reliable data on the benefits to individuals, families, and communities of these services and resources at public libraries. This will enable the public library community to document and use data collected about the impacts of PAC to assist with improvements in services, support local and national advocacy and funding efforts, and provide a solid basis for future research efforts.

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