The Digital Inclusion Survey, which collected data from a nationally representative sample of public libraries at the branch/outlet level between September 3 and November 30, 2013, and received 3,392 responses, found that overall, libraries report technology improvements—including nearly ubiquitous public wi-fi, growing mobile resources and a leap in eBook access.

However, the ALA’s 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey also documents digital differences among states and an urban/rural divide.

“Until the Digital Inclusion Survey, no national study has shown in such detail the extent to which libraries complete education, jumpstart employment and entrepreneurship, and foster individual empowerment and engagement, or the E’s of Libraries™,” said ALA President Courtney Young. “The study also begins to map new programs and technology resources that range from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) maker programming to 3D printing to hackathons.”

Among the study findings:

  • 98 percent of libraries provide free public access to Wi-Fi, up from 89 percent in 2012
  • 98 percent provide technology training, ranging from internet safety and privacy to coding to using social media
  • 98 percent provide assistance completing online government forms
  • 97 percent provide online homework help
  • 95 percent offer workforce development training programs
  • 90 percent offer eBooks, up from 76 percent in 2012
  • 56 percent offer health and wellness programs regarding developing healthy lifestyles
  • 50 percent offer entrepreneurship and small business development programs
  • Average number of computers provided by libraries is now 20, up from 16 in 2012

“Changes in technology—whether internet speeds, or new devices or new applications—are racing faster all the time,” said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. “Libraries are ideally positioned to help everyone in our communities get up to speed. This is the heart of digital inclusion—equitable access to internet-connected devices and online content plus the skills to take advantage of the educational, economic and social opportunities available through these technologies.”

While most libraries marked progress from the last national library technology study in 2012, advances are uneven.

Less than half of rural libraries reported they increased bandwidth speeds in the last 24 months, compared with 64 percent of urban libraries and 56 percent of suburban libraries. Fewer than two-thirds of rural libraries report having access to information technology (IT) staff, far behind their counterparts.

A vast majority of all libraries (66 percent), though, agree they would like to increase their broadband capacity, and that cost is the leading barrier to doing so.

(Next page: Tech trends)