US Public Libraries and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

Coverage Type: research
American Library Association's Washington Office, 1615 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC, 20009-2520, United States

The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy released the first national report detailing U.S. library engagement with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The preliminary report highlights statewide library BTOP projects and improvements they have made to public access technology resources, digital literacy and workforce development.

The report estimates that 1744 libraries were impacted through public computer center grants and 226 libraries were impacted by sustainable broadband adoption grants, which were aimed at providing computer training. In addition 1438 libraries received broadband connectivity through the infrastructure program. Other notable statistics include:

  • 13% of libraries added or replaced computers with BTOP funds in FY2012 and 12% plan to add or replace computers with such funds in FY2013.
  • Public libraries reported an average of 16.4 computers in FY2012, up from 14.2 computers two years earlier. 65% of libraries report insufficient public computers to meet demand, down from 76% the previous year.
  • 62% of libraries report being the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities.
  • 77% of Americans aged 16 and older say free access to computers and the Internet is a “very important” service of libraries
  • 30 million people relied on library public access technology for job search resources and assistance in one year. Of these people, 76% used the library’s computers or Internet access for their job search and 23% received job-related training at the library.
  • 58% of U.S. adults have public library cards.

The report also includes detailed descriptions of the impact of the BTOP program on libraries in 19 states and the District of Columbia, many of which include anecdotal evidence about the program’s impact. Some examples:

  • Through collaboration with the New Jersey Community College Consortium, the New Jersey State Library has delivered more than 1,000 job readiness computer skills workshops. More than 10,000 N.J. residents have accessed online career resources at public libraries, including more than 183,000 job searches conducted and 9,400 resumes created. In addition, residents conducted over 36,500 searches using the libraries’ online small business and entrepreneurial resources.
  • The Maine State Library is working with the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide legal information clinics through new library videoconferencing technology. The clinics will be offered in real time, allowing patrons at multiple locations, and especially in rural locations, to attend and ask questions directly of the presenting attorney.
  • More than 365,000 Coloradans increased their digital literacy skills through that state’s BTOP project. Ninety-five percent of those who took formal classes in Colorado stated they learned a valuable skill and would recommend the classes to others.
  • The Nebraska Library Commission expects to more than double its grant goal (45 libraries) for upgrading broadband speeds in this mostly rural state. Of the 85 libraries upgraded so far, the average speed moved from 2.9Mbps to 18.2Mbps. All 147 Nebraska libraries now offer Wi-Fi.



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