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«How the American Public Benefits Opportunity for All from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries The U.S. IMPACT Study A research initiative examining the ...»

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In Fayetteville, Arkansas, a librarian told us about a male user who comes in daily to run his eBay business, as well as a woman who is a small business owner who recently used the computers to find information on Workman’s Compensation.

Ophelia, a 20-year-old college student in Oakland, California, describes using the library to help manage a business for her father who “has a Yahoo account for his construction business. I'm his secretary and I answer his phone calls and all that. I write it in his email and leave it as a draft. I then have him check his drafts about all his jobs that come in.” These users find the library a convenient and accessible place to accomplish tasks associated with business needs. As a result of their use, they are able to generate income and contribute to the local economy.

Activities Associated with Entrepreneurship The study also asked about the specific activities and outcomes in the entrepreneurship arena shown in Figure 12. Of these activities, locating potential customers and starting a business were the most frequently reported.

These two activities were also reported more frequently by entrepreneurial users who use the library as their sole location for Internet access than those who have access at home, school, work, or somewhere else. In contrast, there was little difference between users with or without alternative access when it came to writing business plans; one possible reason for this that was discussed by librarians and interview subjects is that many libraries maintain collections of sample business plans that patrons can look at in the library, thereby making it Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 91 more convenient for those writing business plans to do so at the library where all the materials they may need are conveniently located and where they can get help from librarians.

Figure 12: Entrepreneurial activities by availability of alternative access Writing a Business Plan An early step in starting a business is often writing a business plan; almost 33 percent of the users of library computers for business purposes indicated that they used the library computers to help write a business plan (Appendix Table 34).

Nearly 33 percent of those users engaging in business activities on library computers used them to help write a business plan.

The users most likely to use the library for this purpose are:

• Those of Latino or Hispanic origin;

• Those of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives;

• People between the ages of 25 and 64 years;

• Men;

• Those who are employed; and

• People who speak languages other than English at home.

92 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries Although there were no significant differences in use for this purpose based on income, other user characteristics did show variation in the likelihood of use for

writing a business plan:

• Those of Latino or Hispanic origin showed higher odds, by a factor of 2.03, than those of non-Latino or non-Hispanic heritage of using the library for writing a business plan. People of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives also had higher odds (by a factor of 3.59, 3.56, and 1.83, respectively) than Whites for this type of use. Asians showed a lower odds ratio for this activity than Whites by a factor of 0.82.

• Users of ages 25–64 years showed higher odds (by factors ranging between 1.37 and 1.83) of using the library for writing business plans than those older than 75 years.

• The odds of women using the library for this purpose were lower than men by a factor of 0.53.

• The odds of those who were unemployed were lower by a factor of 0.53 than those who were employed of writing a business plan at the library.

• Finally, the odds of those who speak a language other than English at home were higher (by a factor of 3.13) than those who speak English in their homes for this type of activity.

Antonia, 49 years old and unemployed in Baltimore, provides an example of

using the library to create a business plan for someone else:

I have used it recently for adopting some business plans—not for me— for someone in the construction field. I’m doing a business proposal for a friend of mine who wants to revamp his construction company.

Antonia, and many others like her, found the library an important resource to help them plan for an entrepreneurial activity, and gather the necessary information and resources that it takes to get a business off the ground.

Starting a Business The next step after planning for a business is getting it started. Nearly 3 percent of the users who had used library computers for business purposes indicated that they used the library computers to help them start a business (Appendix Table 35). These users took advantage of the library’s services to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and were able to use the library as a home for Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 93 their business, even if they had no place else to conduct the ongoing activities necessary to get their business up and running.





About 47 percent of those users who used library computers for business purposes started a business.

Among all users of library computers, those most likely to use the library for this purpose

are:

• People living below the poverty guidelines;

• Those of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives;

• People between the ages of 25 and 54 years;

• Men; and

• People who speak languages other than English at home.

Users with household incomes below the poverty guidelines had higher odds (by a factor of 2.03) of using the library for starting a business than those with incomes 300 percent or greater than the poverty guidelines. Other factors

varying significantly between types of users are:

• People of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives also had higher odds (by a factor of 3.25, 2.71, and 1.34, respectively) than Whites for this type of use.

• Users of ages 25–54 years showed higher odds (by factors ranging between 1.34 and 1.72) of using the library to start a business than those older than 75 years.

–  –  –

• The odds of those who speak a language other than English at home were higher (by a factor of 2.55) than those who speak English in their homes for this type of activity.

Olena is an example of a user who relies on the library computers to help start her business. A 33-year-old cosmetology school graduate in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she explains: “I'm researching small business and I'm opening a salon, so I'm looking up shopping for equipment and materials.” Locating Customers Finally, about 49 percent of those users engaged in entrepreneurial activities indicated that they used their library’s online resources to locate customers for 94 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries their business (Appendix Table 36), and of these users, nearly half (48 percent of the users trying to locate customers) indicated that they actually saw their business increase over the past year as a result of this activity (Appendix Table 37).

Over 49 percent of users who used library Internet connections for business purposes were trying to locate customers for their business.

The users most likely to use the library for this purpose are:

• People living below the poverty guidelines;

• Those of Latino or Hispanic origin;

• Those of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives;

• People between the ages of 25 and 54 years;

• Men; and

• People who speak languages other than English at home.

→Outcome: 48 percent of those users trying to locate new customers (1.3 million people) saw an increase in business.

Users with household incomes below the poverty guidelines had higher odds (by a factor of 1.94) of using the library to look for customers for their business than those with incomes 300 percent or greater than the poverty guidelines.

Differences in likelihood of use for this purpose were also significant for the

following characteristics:

• People of Latino or Hispanic origin showed higher odds of using the library for this purpose, by a factor of 1.79, than those of non-Latino or non-Hispanic origin. Those of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives also had higher odds (by a factor of 3.67, 2.52, and 1.85, respectively) than Whites for this type of use.

• Users of ages 25–54 years showed higher odds (by factors ranging between 1.26 and 1.65) of using the library to look for business customers than those older than 75 years.

• The odds of women using the library for this purpose were lower than men by a factor of 0.49.

• The odds of those who speak a language other than English at home were higher (by a factor of 1.96) than those who speak English in their homes for this type of activity.

Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 95 Avery, a 60-year-old from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who is self-employed, is an example of someone who uses the library Internet for email direct marketing as a part of her consulting work, creating her own business clientele through the use of the library’s resources.

Another example of direct customer interaction was provided by Abe, a 53-yearold man with a disability in Oakland, California, who described using the

computers to broker business deals:

I’m dealing with a business that is looking to buy another business and I am trying to assist them in buying, if that makes sense. It’s almost management services. I take care of the financial side.

Across all these activities related to entrepreneurship and business, users showed creativity and resourcefulness in making opportunities for themselves and others through the use of the online resources available at their public libraries. Although the percentages of use are not as impressive as some other areas, the numbers of people engaged in entrepreneurial activities at their public library points out an often hidden value for the community in providing online access as a community resource—the ability for citizens to create or supplement their own livelihoods and contribute to the local economy.

Conclusion Libraries play a vital role in helping people find and maintain jobs and manage businesses. The study shows that free access to computers and the Internet in libraries across the country has made an impact in helping people prepare resumes, conduct job searches, submit online applications, correspond with employers, carry out job-related work and training, and conduct the varied everyday activities needed to run a successful business enterprise.

The findings have important policy implications at the federal level, as well as for state and local agencies concerned with employment and the economy. The study shows that libraries are central hubs for assisting people of all demographic backgrounds—particularly people facing economic challenges—in making themselves competitive in the job market and maintaining employability.

The findings also indicate how libraries relieve some of the burden of government agencies and community-based organizations that address labor issues by providing computer access and training in ways that these agencies are constrained from or lack resources to provide. Moreover, the study shows that the library computing environment is valued by users for its nonOpportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries stigmatizing, open atmosphere, and regular hours that promote positive work behaviors.

7.3 Health and Wellness People rely on public library computers and Internet access for two of the most critical aspects of their lives: health and wellness. Users are logging in to find ways to improve their diets, find doctors, research their own or others’ illnesses, locate health care insurance, and track down discount medications. In fact, libraries have become a nontraditional, and perhaps overlooked, component of the national public health system.

The expansion of the Internet is creating a growing number of vital links between access to information technology and personal health at a time when health care stands as one of the nation’s biggest public policy issues that impacts the welfare of citizens as well as the financial solvency of the nation’s largest social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Indeed, meeting health and wellness needs was one of the most frequently reported uses of public access technology, with 37 percent of users reporting having looked for health information, treatment options, care givers, or ways to improve their health; 56 percent of these users also reported seeking out these types of information for relatives, friends, colleagues, and others.

This section presents findings about the ways patrons use library computers and Internet access for health and wellness activities. It begins with an overview of the most frequent types of health and wellness activities reported in the U.S.

IMPACT Studies and the characteristics of users most likely to use library technology for these purposes. The remainder of the section provides greater depth for understanding the following four clusters of activities associated with

efforts to improve health or get treatment for medical conditions:

• Improving health by locating information about diet and fitness;

• Learning about medical conditions and treatments, medications, and medical procedures;

• Finding and using health care providers, including locating support groups for medical concerns; and

–  –  –



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