Libraries Trying to Keep up with Digital Technologies, Survey Shows

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31st July 2014 13:20 - Museums, Libraries and Archives

Libraries in America have made strides forward to keep up with today’s digital technologies, a recently published report – the Digital Inclusion Survey – has shown.

Of the 3,392 respondents included, just 2.5% conceded to not offering free public Wi-Fi, meaning an overwhelming majority (97.5%) do.

Almost nine in 10 (89.5%) public libraries now provide access to e-books, with around three quarters (76%) offering e-books – an increase on the previous study’s findings: 2011 – 67%; 2008 – 52%; 2007 – 38%. Furthermore, around two fifths (39%) of libraries now offer e-readers for check-out.

Elsewhere, nearly all (99.5%) of those questioned said they offer programmes, information sessions and/or training on education and learning, with slightly less (95%) offering the same services for employment and workforce management. Three quarters (75%) said they offer programmes, information sessions and/or training on E-government and civic engagement and just under three fifths (57.9%) said they provide the same facilities for health and wellness.

In addition, the vast majority of the public libraries surveyed stated they also provide technology access and training in the following areas: technology training (98%); online homework assistance (96.5%) and online job resources (95.6%).

However, the survey highlighted an evident urban/rural digital divide in public libraries. Public libraries situated in cities (95%) were more likely to offer access to IT support than those placed in suburban (85%), town (77%) and rural (64%) areas. The amount of public libraries offering formal computer skills training followed a similar trend too – city (77.6%), suburban (57.9%), town (47.7%) and rural (32.5%).

Around one sixth (14%) of the survey’s respondents said they have websites optimised for mobile devices, more than one in 10 (12%) said they use scanned codes and 7% stated they had developed smartphone apps.

Many participants said they are struggling to meet demand due to lack of supplies though, with around half (46%) saying they had insufficient Internet connection speeds and just under two thirds (65%) saying they had an inadequate number of public computers.

On a brighter note, the number of respondents who said they had received flat or decreased budgets slightly decreased in the latest edition of the survey compared to the previous year – 57% in 2012 and 60% in 2011. However, this is still an increase of almost one fifth from 2009’s figure (40%).

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