Released: January 22, 2013

Library Services in the Digital Age

Part 3: Technology use at libraries

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Some 73% of Americans ages 16 and over say there are places in their community where they can access the internet or use a computer for free.1 And 35% say they have used those free access points.

Younger Americans, particularly 16-17 year-olds, are significantly more likely to have used free internet and computers in their communities than older adults. Americans living in households in the highest income bracket are more likely than those living in the lowest income bracket to have used free internet and computers. Americans with higher levels of education, especially college graduates, are also more likely than those with lower levels of education to have done this.

Use of computers and the internet at libraries

We asked those who had visited libraries in the past 12 months if they used the computers and the internet at the library. 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. Some 26% of those ages 16 and older had connected to the internet at the library.

Some 36% of those who had ever visited a library say the library staff had helped them use a computer or the internet at a library. African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to access the internet at their local library, as are parents of minor children, those under age 50, those living in households earning less than $30,000, and those with at least some college experience.

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 say it was “very important” for libraries to offer free access to computers and the internet to the community and another 18% say it was “somewhat important.” Just 2% say it was not too important and another 2% say it was not important at all.

Again, there are some noteworthy demographic differences in the answers: African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to feel free access was very important. Women and those with some college experience are also especially likely to feel this way. This topic is discussed further in Part 4 of this report.

  1. numoffset=”2″ The American Library Association reports that 62% of libraries report they are the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Study available here.