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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Gates Study, "Opportunity for All," Released at PLA

Last Thursday, during the Public Library Association Conference in Portland, an important new study was released. It's full of the sort of data that U.S. public librarians need right now to prove how much they are used and valued by their communities. (Note how the press release starts with a big, stunning number to get the attention of the media!)

PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to a national report released today. In 2009, as the nation struggled through a recession, people relied on library technology to find work, apply for college, secure government benefits, learn about critical medical treatments, and connect with their communities.

The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. It was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The full press release has been released in various outlets; you can find it here.
The PR itself includes some of the main findings, such as these:
* 40 percent of library computer users (an estimated 30 million people) received help with career needs. Among these users, 75 percent reported they searched for a job online. Half of these users filled out an online application or submitted a resume.

* 37 percent focused on health issues. The vast majority of these users (82 percent) logged on to learn about a disease, illness, or medical condition. One-third of these users sought out doctors or health care providers. Of these, about half followed up by making appointments for care.

* The library’s role as a technology resource has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent of libraries offered Internet access. Today, almost all public libraries offer visitors free access to computers and the Internet. Unfortunately, up to a third of all libraries say they lack even minimally adequate Internet connections to meet demand. More report that they cannot provide the access their patrons truly need.

“Library technology services have created opportunity for millions of Americans, but public libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and increase the speed of their Internet connections,” said Allan Golston, president of the United States Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This study highlights what is at risk, particularly for low-income individuals who heavily rely on the public library for their technology, if future public and private investment in public libraries doesn’t keep pace with demand.” (emphasis mine)

The report’s findings are based on nearly 50,000 surveys – including 3,176 from a national telephone survey and 44,881 web survey responses – from patrons of more than 400 public libraries across the country.
The full report is available for free here.

The Gates Foundation even provides the accompanying high-quality image; download it here.


Anonymous said...

There is a big problem with this sutdy

Gates Keepers

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Dear Anonymous "Gatekeeper,"

I followed the link to your site, where you claim that "someone is lying" about these numbers b/c you don't believe that there could be "Over SEVEN HUNDRED visitors per average library per day." Well, be prepared to be surprised. This is not uncommon, and it doesn't take much of your own research to prove it.

Maybe you've not looked at other recent studies, articles, and newscasts that say that library use is up drastically over past years. If you choose not to believe these other factual sources, then try looking at individual library stats.

Here's just one "for instance" from my home state of New Jersey. NJLA ran two "Snapshot Days" in 2009 where every participating library keep stats to create a "snapshot" of 1 day's usage. On Feb. 19, 2009: 161,367 people walked into the 250 participating libraries. If my calculator serves, that's 645 people per library per day. And these may not even be the busiest branches. And that's just an one basic day.

Other libraries across the country have also done Snapshot Days. You can also check some of the many stats kept by the American Library Association ( and the Public Library Association ( Of course, if you need help finding these, you can always ask a librarian. :-)

You also may not realize that special events, computer classes, and story times for kids can each draw from 10 to 50 attendees. There's a lot more to do @ your library besides read books and surf the web.

If you have any data that proves these numbers wrong (other than your belief that this can't be possible), I'd like to know about it, b/c I don't want to be publishing false information on my blog. Thanks!

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Links to data about NJ's Snapshot day is here:

Anonymous said...

New York City's 200 branch libraries served 37 million visitors in 2006 or 100,000 a day. That is only five hundred total visitors per branch per day. Though perhaps all the other libraries in the country are twice as busy as the ones in New York ...

Data from Even a nonlibrarian can access this information.

Misinformation does help libraries' marketing efforts.

Gates Keepers

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Nice try, Anon, but not at all convincing.

First, your data is from just one library system, whereas the Gates study covered the country with nearly 50,000 surveys from 400 PLs and calculated averages.

Second, the NY data you cite is from 2006. Gates' is from 2009, after usage skyrocketed, due in part to the bad economy.

I don't want to argue here. I'm only asking that you don't accuse people of lies and misinformation w/o having data to prove it. And I don't think you've got that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Gates study. As a library science student, it is interesting to see how many people use the public library and for what reasons. It makes sense that the numbers increased. Many people are in search of jobs do not have access to computers or internet, but some go to the library to have someone available to answer questions. In the school where I work I would like to start a program where parents of students can come to the library and access the internet or other sources. This study will help! Thank you!