January 18, 2021

Data: Public Libraries: ALA Publishes Results of 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey

From the American Library Association:

A majority of our nation’s nearly 17,000 public libraries provide programs to help identify health insurance resources and also training to increase familiarity with new technologies, according to a new study from the American Library Association (ALA). This year’s Digital Inclusion Survey caps two decades of research on public libraries and the internet and the expanded roles libraries are playing in their communities.

Selected Findings

According to the survey, 77% of libraries provide online health resources, and a majority offer programs to help people locate and evaluate health information.

Virtually all libraries (98 percent) offer free public Wi-Fi access;

95 percent of libraries offer summer reading programs to forestall the “summer slide” in reading achievement experienced when learning takes a holiday between school terms;

Close to 90 percent of libraries offer basic digital literacy training, and a significant majority support training related to new technology devices (62 percent), safe online practices (57 percent) and social media use (56 percent);

76 percent of libraries assist patrons in using online government programs and services;

The vast majority of libraries provide programs that support people in applying for jobs (73 percent), access and using online job opportunity resources (68 percent) and using online business information resources (48 percent);

A significant majority of libraries host social connection events for adults (61 percent) and teens (60 percent) such as book discussion groups or gaming programs;

45 percent of libraries provide early-learning technologies for pre-K children; and

More than one-third of all libraries provide literacy, GED prep, STEAM and afterschool programs.

The Age of Library Buildings

For the first time, the survey also looked at the age of library buildings and found 1970 was the average year that library locations opened. In addition to predating ubiquitous public technology access, the report also finds a correlation between building renovations and increased service offerings. The biggest gaps can be seen in libraries offering afterschool programming and STEAM events, in which 52 percent and 48 percent of renovated libraries, respectively, offered these services compared with 33 percent and 31 percent for libraries without renovations in the past five years.

One in five public libraries has renovated buildings in the past five years, and two-thirds of all libraries upgraded technology infrastructure in the past 24 months. The most common renovations were to upgrade electrical or network capacity and enhance or add general spaces in the library. The most common technology upgrades were to replace computers or increase bandwidth. In all cases, however, rural libraries significantly lag their counterparts in larger population areas. While broadband capacity is inching up, 15 percent of rural libraries still have subscribed download speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less. Overall 82 percent of libraries (and 96 percent of rural libraries) fall below the minimum 100 Mbps broadband capacity recommended by the Federal Communications Commission.

Resources

Executive Summary  (2 pages; PDF) overview of survey findings, focused on the main takeaways from the study – how libraries adapt and transform to meet the public’s digital needs.

Extended Summary (22 pages; PDF) – with detail on digital literacy and online training, high speed broadband access, and the effects of infrastructure on libraries’ ability to deliver service.

2014 Digital Inclusion Survey National Report (PDF) – full survey findings and results, with full tables and analysis.

Issues Briefs (PDF) – short, detailed four-page pieces on key topics:

Links to state-level details – state-specific map, printable state vs. national comparisons, and more.

Interactive national map – the data visualization tool combines the results from the Digital Inclusion Survey and community-level data, to enable libraries to better understand their community demographics, education and learning, economic/workforce and health contexts along with the digital inclusion services that they provide at the state or local levels.

Methodology

The Digital Inclusion Survey used the FY2012 Public Library Survey file released in June 2014 by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as its sample frame. In all, the study included 5,195 library outlets in its sample and received 2,304 responses, for a 44 percent response rate. Weighted analysis was used to present national estimates.

Infographics (Click to Access Full Size via ALA Web Site)

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Brief Comment From Gary Price, infoDOCKET Founder and Editor

While we see a sharp rise in ebook availability at public libraries over the past several years, the recent Pew Internet survey showed that 46% of American’s (16 years and older) were aware of libraries offering ebooks.

However, only 16% of these people have ever downloaded an ebook from the library. Pew says that this means that overall about 6% of those 16+ have ever borrowed an ebook from the library.

I think these numbers raise some interesting questions about return on investment, marketing and promotion, future plans, and many other topics.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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