Digital Inclusion Survey documents libraries transforming

This week marks the release of one of the most powerful tools ALA and public libraries have to make our case in the digital age—the 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey. Not only does it provide the most current and granular data available on library technology and programming resources, but the Information Policy & Access Center team at the University of Maryland is doing more with the data than ever before (more on that later).

So what did we learn this year?

  • Helping people identify health insurance resources was the top health and wellness program offering from public libraries at 59.4 percent. Programs related to helping patrons local and evaluate free health information (57.7%) and use subscription health and wellness resources (56.2%) were right behind, and roughly 20 percent of libraries now offer fitness classes and bring in healthcare providers for screening services at the library.digital-inclusion-infographic_health3

Connecticut State Librarian Ken Wiggin isn’t surprised. “What we are hearing from our health exchange is that in addition to assisting individuals to register, many of those who have registered lack an understanding of how to utilize their health insurance,” he said. The state library will hold a health library fair for librarians across Connecticut. A panel of health information experts from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, our state department of Public Health, and other agencies will discuss the resources that their agencies provide. There also will be information tables from these and many other health agencies.

  • Digital content offerings continue to climb, with more than 90 percent of public libraries offering e-books, online homework assistance (95%) and online language learning (56%), to name a few. Recent data from library ebook supplier OverDrive finds that more than 120 million e-books and audiobooks were borrowed from libraries they supply in the first nine months of 2015, representing year-over-year growth of almost 20 percent.

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  • For the first time, the survey also looked at the age of library buildings and found 1970 (!) was the average year that library locations opened. The report also finds a correlation between building renovations and increased service offerings. The biggest gaps can be seen in libraries offering afterschool programming and STEAM events, in which 52% and 48% of renovated libraries, respectively, offered these services compared with 33% and 31% for libraries without renovations in the past five years. “This new analysis points to an outsize impact on community services in cases where the physical space is not able to keep pace with modern technology needs,” said John Bertot, survey lead researcher.

While these findings may not surprise m/any of us in the profession, they can be startling for policymakers and even local community members. As the Pew Research Center (and others) have found time and again, many people are unaware of the services modern libraries offer. Because many people in positions of power do not yet recognize the extent to which libraries can be catalysts for individual opportunity and community progress, the nation underinvests in libraries. To reverse this trend, library allies must unite around shared policy goals and work together to educate and influence decision makers. In fact, this is a driving force behind the Policy Revolution! initiative.

This year’s research and nearly 20 years of Public Libraries and the Internet data before help us inform policymakers, researchers, media and the general public. What a mark John Bertot and his many collaborators have made in tracking our transitions!

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and managed by the ALA Office for Research & Statistics and the Information Policy and Access Center at the University of Maryland, the Digital Inclusion Study provides national- and state-level data. The International City/County Management Association and ALA Office for Information Technology Policy are partners in the research effort, and we have a great advisory committee.

Future blog posts will share more on the data tools and uses. Stay tuned!

About Larra Clark

As Deputy Director of the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), Larra’s responsibilities include overall management of OITP’s telecommunications portfolio and day-to-day management of America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) projects and those in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, she served as the project manager in the ALA Office for Research & Statistics for three years.

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