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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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• The odds of people who are of mixed race, Blacks or African Americans, American Indians or Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders were also higher (by a factor of 1.38, 1.52, 1.49, and 1.75, respectively) than Whites for using the library computers for helping other people. Asians had lower odds of engaging in this activity, by a factor of 0.79 compared to Whites.

• Respondents who spoke a language other than English in their home showed higher odds of using computers for other people by a factor of

1.30 over those who spoke English at home.

The study also found that the youngest library users had higher odds of using the computers for these purposes (14- to 18-year-olds by a factor of 1.95, and 19- to 24-year-olds by a factor of 2.21 greater than those older than 75 years).

Users in the 45–54 age bracket also showed higher odds (by a factor of 2.18) of this behavior than those over 75.

Part of the high involvement of younger users reflects their higher frequency of library computer use. It may also reflect a strong impression from the case studies that younger users are more engaged with technology generally and are also more receptive to learning through the process of helping others. This finding also points positively toward the use of library computers for generating social capital. Based on the reports of help givers during case study interviews, the decline in using library computers for this purpose beginning at age 55 may reflect a shift from providing help to becoming recipients of the informational and instrumental help provided by other library computer users.

Unlike many other areas investigated in this study, women show higher odds (by a factor of 1.17) of using library computers to help others compared to men.

The most frequent type of recipient of help provided by library computer users was family (67 percent), followed by friends (54 percent), and strangers (31 percent)—which study respondents described as including fellow users met at the library (Figure 6). In terms of differences in the likelihood of helping certain kinds of people between people who do not have and who do have alternative Internet access, the only significant differences were with family and strangers.

For helping family members, people with alternative access were more likely to help family than those without alternative access (69 percent compared to 61 percent). For helping strangers, people without alternative access to the Internet were more likely to help strangers (35 percent compared to 29 percent).

48 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries Figure 6: Relationship of helper to help recipient Although further research is needed to understand the implications and root motivations for the differences observed in helping behavior between people who rely on public libraries for all computer and Internet needs and others, a possible explanation for why users without alternative access are more inclined to help strangers is that they spend more time around strangers in libraries, which encourages the development of a different kind of helping culture.

Another reason why people with less access to technology are more likely to help others is because they have greater opportunity to do so. More helping individuals use library computers daily (27 percent) or at least once a week (28 percent), as compared to non-helpers (14 percent and 16 percent, respectively).

Wireless users who helped others likewise used libraries for access to the Internet more frequently than those whose use is only for themselves, though the difference in frequency of use between helpers and others was not as great as those who use library computer terminals to access the Internet. During field visits, wireless network users were observed using their laptops in many locations throughout the libraries, whereas those using library computers are usually clustered in one or two designated areas; the difference in physical proximity to others during use may explain some of the lower incidence of wireless users helping other as many computer terminal users interviewed described helping strangers in adjacent areas.

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Although the phenomenon of people seeking information on behalf of others  has been reported in other studies, the U.S. IMPACT Study is the first national  examination yielding findings to indicate its extent in public access technology  users. This research reveals additional depth to the ways that individuals assist  others, in ways that make meaningful differences to people’s lives. By  identifying users who have capacity for using library computers on behalf of  others, and facilitating their behavior through training and access, greater  impacts may be attained across communities. 

6.6  Importance of Technology Access  iniPublic Libraries  The U.S. IMPACT Study asked respondents to the telephone and web survey  questions regarding “how important are the library’s computers and Internet  connections to you personally?”; and “how important is to you that others in  your community have access to the library computers and Internet  connections?” Responses to both questions were assessed on a five‐point Likert  scale ranging from very important to unimportant. To both questions, the  majority of respondents answered highly favorably that computer and Internet  access was important or very important: 74 percent for personal importance  and 84 percent for community importance (Figure 19). The community  importance question was also asked of non‐user respondents, which indicates  the broad‐based support for library computer and Internet access across the full  population.   50  |  Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries     Figure 7: Perceptions of personal and community importance of public library computers and Internet access

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Respondents to the web and telephone surveys repeatedly emphasized their gratitude to their local library staff for outstanding service and the ways their lives were enhanced, both personally and professionally. People stressed the financial, educational, and social benefits (in particular) of having free access to computers and the Internet at their local public library. Just a few of the

indicative thousands of remarks included:

The public library and all of its services and programs are vital to my community. Every staff member that I have had personal dealings with is personable, knowledgeable, and fantastically helpful!

–  –  –

I use the computer to check email, do research, and recently, for looking for a new job. It is a quiet and productive atmosphere and allows me to get a lot accomplished in a short period of time. I sincerely appreciate that the library system allows this usage and am very thankful!

I love the library—the library web page is my home page.

I volunteer my time to maintain and design several web sites, so I do site management online; I answer emails for a nonprofit agency; the library and the Internet are invaluable for research opportunities; I adore my local library and its staff! The library is the most fantastic place!

Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 51 Participants in the case studies also elaborated on the value of public access computing to individuals, families and communities. Chloe, a 50-year-old unemployed user who has been living in homeless shelters in Baltimore, Maryland remarked, “A lot of people can’t afford computers at home, like me, and this is so great that they do this and assist you with all the help you need.” Asked what difference the computers make to his life, 44-year-old recently unemployed Ewan replied, “Just about everything, I would’ve never had access to email. I would’ve never been able to do a job search. The library is essential.” Zahara, an unemployed young mother of two who was seeking a job and parenting information online the day of her interview, explained “It helps me a lot. Since the recession I can’t really go anywhere else because I have her [the child], so it’s really good and convenient to be able to go the library.” In Fayetteville, Arkansas, 60-year-old retiree Carl valued using the computers for free and the security provided. He elaborated: “I looked into it quite extensively.

I wanted to trade online and the security issues are fairly sophisticated to keep yourself from hackers. There’re professionals here that do nothing but keep track of that. I’ve never had any trouble so I think I made the right decision.” Youth who were interviewed in the focus groups commented on the value of the variety of their uses: in addition to using the computers for homework and research, they also considered the social interaction they experienced with their friends (in the library and online) and the opportunity to pick up fiction materials as strong plusses. Their parents, they sometimes commented, viewed the library setting as important for safety factors.

Staff of the case study libraries and local community agencies and government also provided rich insights into the public value of library computer and Internet access. These perspectives will be discussed in-depth in the second report of the U.S. IMPACT Study, so the following remarks reflect consensus about the broadbased nature of public library computer users and how their interaction in the library setting creates an ambience that can promote sharing and opportunity.

In Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Carla Hayden, Director of the Enoch Pratt Free

Public Library, explained:

You can stand next to a person that's homeless and then on the other side there could be a teacher. Standing in a row together, you have all these different people. The common part is using technology as a tool. I think that's what makes it a different experience. It's a commons of people coming together. Sometimes you will see people reaching over or helping somebody, things like that, casually.

52 | Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries The director of the Oakland Public Library, Carmen Martinez, discussed the

importance of their computer services to users across the system:

In Oakland there is an enormous division between the haves and the have-nots and we know that many of our citizens do not have and may never have a computer with Internet access in their homes. In previous surveys, we discovered that about one quarter of the respondents have indicated that the library provides their only access to computers and the Internet. That rate can grow for immigrant residents, the disabled, and for those with income under $40,000 annually. You could fill a whole library with 300 public access computers and it still wouldn’t be enough.

The impact of a local branch was described by a staff person of a nonprofit health agency located in a social service mall in Oakland, California; she said, “A lot of kids come here and hang out at the library. The whole mall is a social services facility, and I’ve never seen kids hang out the way they do. They come straight to the library; they hang out and get on the Internet. When I first started, I thought maybe they had a school in here but they didn’t, it was a library.” In the following sections, the importance of free access to computers and the Internet to individuals, families, and communities is discussed in-depth with regard to specific use activities. Although people use their library computer resources in different ways and to different effects, the common denominator across the vast majority of users is that the service is a linchpin in the social fabric of American communities and the backbone in the everyday lives of many people.

Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries | 53 Uses of Public Library Internet Connections Computers and Internet access in public libraries have become an expected service to patrons and fulfills many purposes. Interview participants and survey respondents were asked about their use of library computers and wireless

networks to pursue activities in seven use areas, which were defined as follows:

• Education: Interacting with services related to education, including K– 12, colleges or universities, continuing education, and pursuit of learning for personal enrichment.

• Employment and entrepreneurship: Seeking work and gaining jobrelated skills or other activities related to maintaining employment, or to engaging in business or self-employment activities.

• Health and wellness: Seeking information or accessing services related to individual or family health care.

• Government and legal services: Accessing online government services and retrieving information and assistance for legal and regulatory questions.

• Community engagement: Identifying and addressing issues of public concern, including efforts to work with others in a community to solve problems or interact with the institutions of representative democracy.

• Managing finances: Buying and selling goods and/or services using the Internet; managing household financial matters.

• Social connection: Pursuing personal or socially meaningful ends including connecting with family and friends, finding support for an issue or problem, and enjoying other social activities such as watching videos, pursuing hobbies, or maintaining blogs and personal websites.

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