by Charles R. McClure, Paul T. Jaeger, and John Carlo Bertot
First Monday – 3 December 2007

While virtually all public libraries provide free Internet access to patrons, libraries seem to be reaching a plateau in their ability to meet demands for Internet access.

Based on the findings of Public Libraries and the Internet surveys, the average number of public access workstations and the average connection speeds of Internet access in public libraries have stayed the same or slightly decreased in recent years. Further, more than half of libraries do not have sufficient connection speeds to meet patron demand, while staff, space, cost, and technical/telecommunications infrastructure issues prevent a great number of libraries from increasing the number of workstations or the connection speed in the library. Moreover, the U.S. federal telecommunications and broadband policies require revision and updating.

 These findings raise serious questions about the ability of public libraries to continue to meet patron needs for Internet access. As a result of early public library commitment to ensuring public Internet access, patrons rely heavily on public libraries to meet their Internet needs. However, as demands for library computers and connection speeds continue to grow, there may be a drop in the quality of Internet services that public libraries are able to provide their patrons. It would also challenge the fundamental role of the contemporary public library in the community, as libraries have become so inextricably linked to the provision of Internet access. In addition, the survey data identify a range of implications regarding the policy environment in which public libraries offer their public access Internet services.

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