June 17, 2011


U.S. IMPACT Study Second Report

Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access

Washington, DC—Public libraries have become essential points of access to the Internet and computers in local communities, with nearly every library in the country offering public internet access. Yet, individual library practices can have significant affect on the quality and character of this public service. Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access (PDF, 1.1 MB), offers an analysis of the service in four public library systems and makes recommendations for strategies that help to sustain and improve public access service. The report was funded through a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and was produced by the University of Washington Information School.

Libraries play a vital role in providing services that are necessary in everyday life. The recommendations from this study provide a foundation to discuss the wide range of internal and external policy issues that affect the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the types of library resources and environments most patrons encounter in U.S. public libraries.

"This study identifies important best practices that can help libraries improve patron experience and contribute to positive learning outcomes," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. "This report will be very useful for educating the public and provides actionable recommendations for policymakers and funders as they consider future efforts in this area."

Report recommendations highlight the need to:
Integrate Technology Services with Other Public Library Services
Incorporate Activity-Based Budgeting to Help Account for the Cost of Public Access Services
Provide Ongoing Technical Training for Library Staff
Formalize Relationships with Community-Based Organizations
Establish a Set of Common Indicators for Public Library Technology Services
Use Data and Stories to Communicate the Value of Public Access Technology
Leverage Library Technology Resources to Enhance Broadband Adoption and Support

The report's findings are based on 300 interviews with staff, users, funding agencies, community-based organizations, and support organizations in four case study sites:

Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland
Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Oakland Public Library, Oakland, California
Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, Iowa

"The libraries featured in this study reflect the service environments encountered by the vast majority of library patrons across the country. We hope that all libraries will recognize themselves in the characteristics of the case studies and be able to identify policy implications related to their operations from the discussions in the report," said Michael Crandall, senior lecturer at the University of Washington Information School and co-principal investigator of the study.

This second report is a companion volume to the first report in the U.S. IMPACT Study, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries (PDF, 2.1 MB). That report estimated that 77 million people used a library computer in 2009 and that:

  • 40% of the library computer users(an estimated 30 million people) used library resources to help address career and employment needs
  • 42% (32.5 million people) used library resources to help them with their education and training needs
  • 28 million people (37% of library computer users) made use of technology at their local libraries to access health and wellness information

The full report is available at http://tascha.washington.edu/usimpact.

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 About the University of Washington Information School
Media Contact: Michele Norris; mnorris@uw.edu; 206-543-4458
The University of Washington Information School believes in the power of information to change lives. Through instruction, research and practice, the UW Information School, or "iSchool," is shaping the ways people create, store, find, manipulate and share information. Our work helps people address information challenges more ethically, effectively and with a heightened sense of possibility. The UW iSchool offers a Bachelor of Science in Informatics degree, and three graduate degrees: Master of Library and Information Science, Master of Science in Information Management, and Ph.D. in Information Science.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
Media Contact: Mamie Bittner; mbittner@imls.gov; 202-327-4201
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Media Contact: media@gatesfoundation.org; 206-709-3400
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at www.gatesfoundation.org or join the conversation at Facebook and Twitter.