In its latest filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the American Library Association (ALA) highlights the vital role libraries play in communities by supporting workforce development, small business creation, life-long education, and access to government resources through public access computer terminals and broadband Internet access.
The ALA’s Friday filing responded to the FCC’s call for comments regarding the relationship between economic development and broadband — particularly broadband adoption — and how broadband access spurs businesses’ productivity and growth. Public libraries serve the information needs of the community by providing access to online resources and services and directly strengthen the economic stability and quality of life in communities across the country. Public libraries are also community anchor institutions, and bringing broadband to the library will result in greater broadband availability to the entire community.
“Over one hundred years ago, Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of over 1,600 public libraries in the United States because he understood the critical role they played in the education and economic empowerment of the public,” said Dr. Mary Alice Ball, Chair, Telecommunications Subcommittee of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OTIP).
“Today with ten times that number nationwide, America’s public relies even more heavily on libraries not only to educate and retrain themselves, but also to make use of libraries’ no-fee access to the Internet to apply for jobs, use government services and to create small businesses. Carnegie knew that physical library buildings were vital to the continuing growth of the country in the last century; today he would recognize that broadband connectivity in libraries plays a similar function for our society and our economy.”
ALA research finds that more than 90 percent of libraries provide formal or informal technology training to library patrons. Of those libraries that offer formal classes, 91 percent provide training in general computer skills; 71 percent have formal classes in using software applications; and 93 percent have training in general Internet use.
Libraries subscribe to numerous online databases that provide patrons with access to current research and information on a variety of topics including economic development, starting a small business, legal information, and career counseling. Many libraries offer these services to help ensure their patrons not only have access to valuable information but have the skills necessary to evaluate and utilize them. In response to the economic downturn, many libraries are creating additional workshops and training classes on specific employment related topics. Without high capacity broadband, libraries would not be able to provide their patrons with these services — services that are critical to the vitality of communities nationwide.
ALA commends the Commission for soliciting input on a wide range of critical issues as it develops the National Broadband Plan. ALA recognizes the many challenges faced by the Commission and applauds its efforts to put into place a comprehensive plan that will bring lasting social and economic benefit to all areas of the nation.