The University of Washington released findings of a study earlier this year stating that one-third of the American population have used public libraries to access the Internet during the past year, according to a Washington Post article.
The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, revealed that the majority of the 77 million people who visit public libraries to go online were low-income individuals searching for jobs, trying to obtain a degree, or trying to better their current economical situation.
“Millions of people see libraries as an essential tool to connect them to information, knowledge, and opportunities,” said Marsha Semmel, acting director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which also funded the study. “Policy makers must fully recognize and support the role libraries are playing in workforce development, education, health and wellness, and the delivery of government services.”
Additionally, those surveyed said they used the Internet in public libraries to find work, apply for college, get public benefits and look up medical information. Teens were among the top users, saying they went online to acquire help for homework.
“Library technology services have created opportunity for millions of Americans,” said Allan Golston, president of the United States Program at the Bill and 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."
Interestingly, the majority of library computer users surveyed admitted to having Internet connection at home, but they preferred going to the library because they could also ask librarians for additional help.