This website – from the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland – supports public libraries in their mission to provide Internet access and related content and services to people and their communities. As more people rely on the public library for Internet access and training for education, job-seeking, interactions with government, communication, and entertainment, this site serves as a source for findings, data, reports, and publications devoted to public libraries and their involvement with and use of the Internet. This content can help libraries, decision makers, policy makers, and others.

More information can be found in the completed report, the executive summary or one of our briefs regarding public libraries and employmente-government services, digital literacy or broadband.

Public Libraries and the Internet Surveys

U.S. public libraries were early adopters of the Internet. Since 1994, 14 national surveys that track the use of and issues associated with public library Internet connectivity have been conducted. Funded over the years by the American Library Assocation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, the national surveys provide longitudinal data that track trends in public access computing and Internet access provided by public libraries to the communities that they serve.

Beginning in 2006, the national Public Libraries and the Internet series of surveys became part of the larger Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study funded by the American Library Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Information Policy & Access Center manages the national public library survey portion of the larger study.

Findings from the national survey demonstrate that public libraries provide a wide range of Internet-enabled services and resources to their communities:

  • Public access computers
  • Broadband connectivity, including wireless (wi-fi) access;
  • Public access computers;
  • Broadband connectivity, including wireless (wi-fi) access;
  • Instructional programs on computer and Internet use, as well as a range of online content such as databases, health information, and government programs;
  • Online resources;
  • Assistance in seeking employment;
  • Assistance with E-government transactions; and
  • Access to secondary and higher education coursework

In many cases, the public library is the only free public computing and Internet access provider within a community.

The Public Libraries and the Internet surveys, now the Public Library Funding & Technology Access surveys, provide longitudinal data regarding the Internet-enabled services and resources that public libraries offer their communities.

Survey Methodology

The 2011-2012 survey resides within a larger public library study regarding public access technology use and funding.  In this context, the survey employed a sampling strategy to meet the following objectives:

  • Provide outlet (branch)-level national data regarding the public library Internet connectivty and use;
  • Provide outlet (branch)-level state data (including the District of Columbia) regarding public library and Internet connectivty and use and;
  • Provide system (administrative)-level data (including the District of Columbia) regarding technology planning, E-rate use, BTOP/BIP funding, and library operating and technology funding expenditures.

The survey has the additional objective of obtaining data to conduct analysis using the variables of metropolitan status (urban, suburban or rural).

The survey asked respondents to answer questions about specific library outlets and about the library system to which each respondent outlet belonged.  Respondents completed the survey between September 2011 and November 2011. The survey received a total of 7,252 responses for a response rate of 82.5%.

The high survey response rate and representativeness of responses demonstrate the high quality of the survey data and the ability to generalize to the public library population.