Researchers at Florida State University have found that nearly all libraries around the country have free public Internet access and an increasing number are offering wireless connections.
According to the study, conducted by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute in the College of Information, 98.9 percent of libraries offer free public Internet access, up from 21 percent in 1994 and 95 percent in 2002. The study also revealed that 18 percent of libraries have wireless Internet access and 21 percent plan to get it within the next year.
"U.S. public libraries have gained a tremendous amount of headway as it relates to connectivity and access," said John Carlo Bertot, one of the study’s authors. "The challenge lies in ensuring that libraries continueto get the support they need to provide necessary improvements to the technology."
The report, entitled "Public Libraries and the Internet 2004: Survey Results and Findings," funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association, explored public library Internet connectivity, use, public access services and technology infrastructure.
Results from the survey indicate that nearly all public libraries are connected to the Internet, offer public access Internet services and technology training.
Libraries are, however, having difficulty in maintaining and upgrading such services and resources due to budgetary constraints. Moreover, nearly 85% of libraries indicate that they either consistently or sometimes cannot meet demand for public access workstations.
The study also shows that the greatest disparity in public access Internet service quality is due to geographic location-rural libraries are less likely to have broadband access, offer formal technology training, and have fewer public access workstations, as opposed to urban libraries.
The full report, along with other public library Internet connectivity information, is available at www.ii.fsu.edu/plinternet.
The study is co-authored by John Carlo Bertot, Charles R. McClure and Paul T. Jaeger of the Information Institute.
The study sampled 6865 libraries out of the total 16,192 in the country and received responses from 5023 libraries in 34 states.