Far from being made superfluous by the Internet, a recent study by the American Library Association finds that the library is often the only source of free Internet access in a community.
More than 71 percent of all libraries (and 79 percent of rural libraries) report they are the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their communities, according to the survey. 76 percent of public libraries offer free wireless access. However, nearly 60 percent of libraries report Internet connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron demand at some point in the day, and 81 percent of public libraries report there are not enough public Internet computers to meet patron demand some or all of the time.
Libraries are particularly being used in the economic downtown, with 66 percent of public libraries ranking job-seeking services, including resume writing and Internet job searches, among the most crucial online services they offer – up from 44 percent two years ago. In a separate survey, 80 percent of New York libraries indicated they helped someone search for a job in late 2008, the ALA said. More than 90 percent of public libraries provide technology training such as online job-seeking and career-related classes, general Internet, and computer use instruction.
With more governments turning to the Internet themselves to reduce costs, many government services are now often available only, or most easily, via the Internet, leaving people without Internet access stuck.
Ironically, at the same time libraries are being called on more heavily, they are having hours and staffing cut due to budget restrictions, with 44 percent of states reporting declines in state funding for public libraries in FY2009 – in some cases by as much as 25 or 30 percent. In addition, 14 percent of libraries reported FY2009 declines in local funding as well.