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Internet Access at Public Libraries

In addition to their other roles, public libraries play a vital part in providing Internet access to members of their communities, providing a gateway for those doing homework, applying for jobs, and accessing public services.

Findings and Trends

  • From 2000 to 2010, both the number of computers available to public library users for accessing the Internet and the ratio of such computers to population more than doubled (Indicator V-9a). In 2010, the ratio was 4.1 computers per 5,000 people, or a total of 245,908 computers.[1]
  • As with circulation levels, considerable variation existed among states with respect to the ratio of computers to population in the state (Indicator V-9b). Vermont had the most computers per 5,000 people (8.7), while Hawaii had the fewest (1.1). Only two states—Hawaii and South Dakota—reported a decline in the ratio of Internet computers to population from 2005 to 2010. At the national level, the ratio increased 28%, from 3.2 to 4.1 computers per 5,000 people, over the same time span.
  • The Southeast region had relatively low ratios of Internet computers to population in the state, although Alabama and Louisiana were exceptions. In contrast, the New England region, with the exception of Massachusetts, had comparatively high ratios. With respect to the ratios, there was also some tight clustering of neighboring states with no clear regional identity. California and its eastern neighbors all had ratios in the lowest quintile, while Nebraska and several of its contiguous neighbors had ratios in the highest quintile.
  • Although state statistics provide a sense of the distribution of public library Internet access throughout the United States, they do not shed light on the often sizable variation in the level of access within states—variation that arises from the fact that public libraries are, for the most part, locally funded.
V-9a: Public-Use Internet Computers in Public Libraries, Total and per 5,000 People, Fiscal Years 2000–2010*

* Based on the total unduplicated population of libraries' legal service areas. Values presented are for the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Calculations were performed on all surveyed libraries, not only those meeting Institute of Museum and Library Services criteria for public libraries.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Public Libraries Survey (2000–2005); and Institute of Museum and Library Services, Public Libraries in the United States Survey (2006–2010).

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V-9b: Public-Use Internet Computers in Public Libraries per 5,000 People, by State, Fiscal Year 2010*

* Based on the total unduplicated population of libraries' legal service areas. Calculations were performed only on those libraries meeting Institute of Museum and Library Services criteria for public libraries.

Source: Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Table 11: Number of Public-Use Internet Computers in Public Libraries and Uses of Internet Computers per Year, by State: Fiscal Year 2010,” in Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2010: Supplementary Tables (Washington, DC: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2013), 34–35.

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Endnotes

[1] Libraries offer a wide array of online support, training, and other services. For a useful summary of these offerings, see American Library Association, “Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, 2010–2011,” American Libraries, Summer 2011.