«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 ...»
questions, also defined by the IMLS:
1. What are the demographics of people who use computers, the Internet, and related services in public libraries?
2. What information and resources provided by free access to computers, the Internet, and related services in public libraries are people using, across the spectrum of on-site and off-site use?
3. How do individuals, families, and communities benefit (with a focus on social, economic, personal, and professional well-being) from free access to computers, the Internet, and related services at public libraries?
4. What reliable indicators can measure the social, economic, personal, and/or professional well-being of individuals, families, and communities 20 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries that result from access to computers, the Internet, and related services at public libraries?
5. What correlations can be made between the benefits obtained through access to computers and the Internet and a range of demographic variables?
6. What computer and Internet services and resources are lacking at public libraries that, if provided, could bring about greater benefit?
7. What indicators of negative impact can be identified where free access to computers and the Internet is weak or absent?
In addition to answering these questions, the research has been designed to provide a framework that libraries can use to evaluate their computing services and to communicate the value of these services with funding agencies, community partners, and patrons; this framework will be discussed in a forthcoming report. An online toolkit and supporting resources will also be available to help libraries make the best use of the results of the research.
3.2 Theoretical Frameworks The U.S. IMPACT Study employed five theoretical frameworks to bring structure
to the research methods and guide our analysis. The five frameworks include:
• The Strategic Triangle provided overall guidance for framing the research questions in terms of showing the value of public access computing resources to the public (Moore 1995).
• The Situated Logic Model, an extension of a typical performance evaluation logic model, helped connect the research questions to policy goals to which public access computing resources may contribute (Naumer 2009).
• The Common Outcome Framework guided the identification and evaluation of candidate indicators (Lampkin et al. 2006).
• The Lay Information Mediary Behavior (LIMB) model provided a framework for measuring the effect of public access computing resources use on other individuals besides the actual resource users (Abrahamson and Fisher 2007; Abrahamson et al. 2008).
• A concurrent triangulated mixed methods research design guided the process of validating findings and identifying areas of emergence and Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 21 divergence that may be of interest for future research (Creswell and Plano Clark 2007).
These frameworks represent a progression from general theoretical guidance for the conceptualization of the provision of free access to computers and Internet connections within the public policy arena to the connections between the research methods employed to examine and discuss the use of these services in public libraries. Appendix 1 expands on the discussion of these theoretical frameworks and their role in the research design and analysis of the data.
3.3 Research Methods Data collection for the U.S. IMPACT Study took place in three concurrent phases: a nationwide representative telephone survey, a web survey administered through a sample of U.S. public libraries, and case studies in four U.S. public libraries. These methods created quantitative data through the surveys, as well as contextual information on the public library computing environment and patron behaviors through observations and interviews with case studies participants. The following section is a brief description of the major characteristics of each of the methods; more detailed information about the project methodology is contained in Appendix 2.
Surveys The telephone and web surveys included some questions that were asked of all respondents, as well as specific questions about library technology use asked only of those who had used public computing resources or services in the past year. Public access computing users were defined as someone who had either used a computer in a public library to access the Internet or had used a public library wireless network to access the Internet using their own computer in the previous 12 months. Both the telephone and web surveys were available in Spanish.
Telephone Survey The telephone survey employed a dual frame probability sample of households that combined a list assisted random digit dialing sample procedure with a cell phone exchange sample. Calls were placed from April 28, 2009, through August 1, 2009. The final disposition of the telephone survey is presented in Table 1.
22 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries Table 1: Telephone survey final disposition
Web Survey The questions contained in the U.S. IMPACT Study web survey were essentially the same as those asked of telephone survey respondents with minor adjustments to accommodate the different platforms. The web survey was intended to permit a smaller, less costly telephone sample, while extending the number of users available for analysis. Though Internet-based surveys are still largely experimental, they offer a promising method of reaching populations commonly missed in the telephone surveys, specifically homeless persons and youth, but also lower income persons and others who are more likely to live in cell phone only households (Blumberg and Luke 2008).
The web survey was administered through 401 public library systems selected using a stratified random sampling procedure. The final disposition of the web survey is presented in Table 2.
Table 2: Web survey library and interview disposition
The sampled libraries were randomly assigned to 1 of 10 two-week fielding periods beginning in April and running until the second week in June 2009.
Weighting To reduce the errors introduced as a result of sampling error and non-coverage, the telephone and web survey data were weighted using a propensity scoring technique that takes advantage of the telephone survey data as a reference point for calibration of the web survey. Weights to match national parameters for gender, age, race, and library use were developed using an iterative weighting adjustment to balance the distribution of these variables. The Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 23 parameters come from the 2009 Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The final weights used for the analysis in this report are a product of the propensity score and the calibration weights. Margins of error for reported statistics can be found in the Appendix Tables.
Case Studies In order to provide greater context for interpreting and validating findings, the
following four public libraries participated in case studies:
• Fayetteville Public Library: Single outlet library in Fayetteville, Arkansas (population 57,491).
• Enoch Pratt Free Library: Multiple outlet library system in Baltimore, Maryland (population 632,941). In addition to the central building, the branches studied included South East Anchor and Orleans.
• Marshalltown Public Library: Single outlet library in Marshalltown, Iowa (population 30,353).
• Oakland Public Library: Multiple outlet library system in Oakland, California (population 431,634). In addition to the central building, the branches studied included Asian, Cesar Chavez, Eastmont, and Rockridge.
The case study teams conducted interviews and focus groups with public access technology users during one-week site visits between March and May 2009. Key library staff, administrators, board members, as well as representatives of local government agencies and community service organizations also participated in interviews and focus groups. Table 3 shows the number and types of interviews conducted at each site.
Table 3: Case study interview disposition
Community stakeholders included local agency staff, policy makers/elected officials, and staff or volunteers at other community Internet access locations and were interviewed either individually or in focus groups. Adult public access 24 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries computing users were interviewed individually, whereas youth users aged 14– 18 years were interviewed in focus groups.
All of the case study interviews and focus groups were recorded and later transcribed. Two types of analysis were applied to the transcripts: the first is a traditional qualitative approach to content analysis where transcripts from administrator and community stakeholder interviews were analyzed and probed for emergent themes. The second was a directed content analysis which applied codes derived from the surveys to the public access computing user transcripts.
The directed approach in this study allows the qualitative findings from the case study interviews and focus groups to inform, validate, and provide critical context for the quantitative findings of the survey component of the study.
Comments left by survey respondents in open-ended questions regarding other types of use and suggestions for improvements were also coded using the directed approach.
Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 25 Public Library Visits “The library is a quiet safe place; it’s a productive place.” Reese, Oakland, CA In the previous 12 months, 169 million (69 percent) Americans 14 years of age and older visited a public library. They also do so frequently: one out of three Americans 14 years or older (35 percent) visit once a week or more often. Some of the most striking observations from the U.S. IMPACT Study site visits came from the recognition of the sheer magnitude and variety of the resources, services, and materials public libraries provide and the care with which librarians build their collections to satisfy the needs of their particular patrons.
This dedication to serving local communities is perhaps the reason why public libraries continue to enjoy high use among the U.S. population.
Overall Public Library Use Over 69 percent of U.S. residents age 14 or older have visited a public library at least
once in the past 12 months. Library visits are highest among:
• The working poor (earning 100–200 percent of federal poverty guidelines) and those with income more than 300 percent of the poverty guidelines;
• People of mixed race, Asians, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, and Whites;
• 14–18, 35–44, and 65–74 year olds;
• Women; and
• People with educational attainment beyond high school.
Like many patrons interviewed in the course of this study, Reese a 30-year-old unemployed college graduate from Oakland, conveyed her appreciation for having a quiet and safe place for people to visit and engage in productive activities. Reese explained that she visits a library branch “a bus ride away” from her home a couple of times a week to browse books, DVDs, pick up fliers about community events, and, about once a month, to use the library’s computers for Internet access because they’re faster than the computer she has at home.
During her library visits, Reese also uses the library’s computers to access the catalog and to request interlibrary loans through the library website. Although some patrons use the library for more limited purposes, as shown throughout this report, the research strongly suggests that most patrons are like Reese and use a full range of library resources.
Approximately 70 percent of people with income between 100 and 300 percent of the poverty limit for their household size visited a public library in the past year. Americans whose household income is below the federal poverty limit are
Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 27 Accessing Online Library Resources Most library patrons (78 percent) use public library computers during their visits to access library resources such as digital articles and books, subscription databases, and also to look up books in the library catalog, place holds, or request items through interlibrary loans (Appendix Table 2). Many libraries, including all four visited in conjunction with the U.S. IMPACT Study field work, have special computer terminals designated for online public access catalogs (OPAC) and some also provide terminals for accessing subscription databases available through the library websites. Use of library computers for accessing the online catalog and library website resources is a distinct activity from using library computers to access the Internet which is discussed in Sections 6 and 7.
Overall Use of Online Library Resources Nearly 78 percent of library visitors, or 54 percent of Americans aged 14 years or older, have used a computer in a public library to access library technology resources like the
online catalog, subscription databases for articles, and digital books and other media. Inlibrary use of technology was most likely among:
Close to two out of three (65 percent) of Americans age 14 and older have accessed electronic resources remotely through public library websites, including placing holds, getting homework help or reference services, and requesting materials from other
libraries. Remote use was most common among: