Released: December 28, 2012

Internet access at libraries

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In a survey this fall, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked whether people had accessed the internet at a library in the previous 12 months. Some 26% of those ages 16 and older said they had.

Our question was designed to include people who used the wired computers at the library and people who had used the library WiFi connection, too.

There were some notable demographic differences in the answers to this question. African-Americans and Latinos were more likely than whites to access the internet at their local library, as were parents of minor children, those under age 50, and those with some college experience. Some of these findings have been covered in a New York Times debate that began on December 27, 2012.

How important is free computer and internet access at libraries?

We did not ask a question about whether library internet users depend on that connection as their primary internet connection. But we asked respondents to this survey how important they think it is to have free access to computers and the internet at the library in their community.

Some 77% of all those ages 16 and older said it was very important for libraries to offer free access to computers and the internet to the community and another 18% said it was somewhat important. Just 2% said it was not too important and another 2% said it was not important at all.

Again, there were some noteworthy demographic differences in the answers: African-Americans and Latinos were more likely than whites to feel free access was very important. Women and those with some college experience were also especially likely to feel this way.

Another good resource on the matter of computer and internet access at libraries is the Opportunity for Allreport from researchers at the University of Washington. [Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was an underwriter of that research as well as ours.]

About the survey

The findings reported here come from a survey of 2,252 Americans ages 16 and old on cell phones and landline phones between October 15-November 10, 2012. The surveys were administered in English and Spanish. The margin of error is +/- 2.3 percentage points.