Policymakers, Please Note: Libraries Are Nation’s Computer Stop

Are you at home looking at this blog? Are you at work?  We’re willing to bet that almost half of you are looking at this blog from your public library. Every time we walk into a library, we see full computer stations and laptops on desktops. “The computers are always jam-packed with neighbors of all ages, it is almost like the library functions as the South Park Computer Lab,” Shawna Murphy recently told us.

Now, a new study released this week from the University of Washington Information School, reveals exactly how many of us are relying on  library computer access for:  job searches (75% of respondents), health information (82% ), homework (42%), and staying in touch with family and friends (64%).

In the past year, one-third of our national population over the age of 14 used a public library to access a computer or to find wi-fi.

In the past year, 50% of the population between 14 and 18 used library computers – mostly for homework. 

What does this mean? It means libraries are indispensable extensions of our schools. They’re helping our kids with homework and college preparation and keeping our unemployed neighbors hopeful by offering a dependable and resourceful place to look for jobs. They’re bridging the digital divide that could separate us from one another.  They’re  a resource and investment that return exponential value to our communities-especially during periods of recession.

 “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,” Marsha Semmel of the Institute of Museum and Library Services said in response to the study’s findings.   Media headlines about the study also tell the story: “Web Usage up at libraries: many young, low-income people rely on public Internet access for research . . .” writes the Spokesman Review. “A third of Americans — about 77 million people — use public-library computers to look for jobs, connect with friends, do their homework and improve their lives,” writes the Seattle Times, citing the study’s findings. 

What can you do to help our libraries? Get involved with the Friends of The Seattle Public Library. advocacy@friendsofspl.org

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Preliminary Results: 94% Say Libraries Are Important Neighborhood Assets

This summer The Planning Commissioners Journal ran a feature titled ” Libraries at the Heart of our Communities.” The author, Wayne Senville, wrote:

“The 21st century library has arrived. Its mission goes far beyond loaning out books and providing reference materials…

30 people waiting for the library to open on Sunday
30 people waiting for the library to open on Sunday

the library has become the hub of the community,drawing large numbers of users. This is happening because libraries are providing programs, meeting space, computer access, and resources to a broader array of community needs.”

Seattle community members, responding to our neighborhood library survey, reflected the same experience locally. Preliminary results show that more than 94% of respondents think the library is an important asset to their neighborhood.

David Howry, Senior Vice President of Frontier Bank in Lake City, said, “I have been in the community 7 years and I think the Library was renovated five years ago, and it’s really come into it’s own since then, I see lots of kids going over there. It’s busier than it’s been. I hear people say, ‘Well let’s go meet at the library.’ I see a lot of business people there using the computers. A lot of our clients are older and don’t own computers so we send them over to the library for that resource.”

Beth Williamson Miller Executive Director of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “Our community organizations especially value the Library for its meeting space. This is really an important part of our community’s ability to meet to discuss issues and thus solve problems. Ballard District Council, one of the strongest in the city, meets there monthly. It is a civic gathering place.”

Koni Olson, in West Seattle, wrote, “The library is an important asset to our community! It gives kids a place to go after school to study or use the internet. It gives people in the community an opportunity to get info and use the internet if they cannot afford to have it in their own home. It is a place to gather and to find entertainment or just a quiet place to be.”

Margie Roe, in North Seattle added, “Libraries are an important neighborhood asset…lots of folks using the computers, meeting rooms, and just running into each other. Great community gathering place.”

Melissa Ropke summed up our library’s value to neighborhoods as, “A place for all to borrow books, a place for children to learn about books and to become literate. Public access to computers, to meeting spaces, to special programs. I could go on and on.”

The Seattle Public Library served 13 million people last year. All measures of use are increasing rapidly. In August visits were up 11% over last year and circulation was up 21%. Demand for online homework help was up 110% over last year and media downloads were up 68%. Online and in our beautiful library buildings, Seattle is discovering the free resources of our neighborhood libraries.

Please speak out for library funding in the 2010 Budget. Libraries need your emails of support.

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