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OITP Supports New Study: Public Libraries as Providers of Digitally Inclusive Services and Resources

The ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) is very happy to spread the word that ALA will again partner with the University of Maryland Information Policy & Access Center on a national study of the roles libraries play in supporting digital inclusion. ALA Office for Research & Statistics (ORS) Director Kathy Rosa will serve as project director, John Carlo Bertot will manage the survey, and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and OITP will serve as partners on the grant. The project is funded by a three-year, National Leadership Grant award of $486,587 from the Institute for Museum & Library Services (IMLS).

The study builds on the long-running Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, which provided a “state of the library” report on the technology resources brokered by libraries and the funding that enables free public access to these resources. The ALA Washington Office has long been among the heaviest users of the data in advocating for libraries with legislators, policymakers and the media.

“Anyone who has read the ALA comments on the National Broadband Plan or digital literacy, for instance, will find reference to this critical research,” said Emily Sheketoff, director of the ALA Washington Office. “Even now we are using it as part of our advocacy on behalf of the Digital Content and Libraries Working Group.”

The “Public Libraries as Providers of Digitally Inclusive Services and Resources: A National Survey” study will take the pulse of public library service in the areas of digital literacy, economic and workforce development, educational support, and health information. Among the key research questions are:

  • What roles do and should public libraries play in creating digitally inclusive communities?
  • What might be needed for libraries to increase their reach and/or efficacy as community anchors in digital inclusion efforts?
  • What are the challenges and barriers public libraries encounter as community providers of public access technology services?
  • How are digital technologies, services, and resources redefining public libraries and their service communities?

“Previous surveys conducted by ALA and UMCP have chronicled the growth of public access technology services and infrastructure in public libraries,” Bertot said. “By focusing on the role of public access technologies and services public libraries provide, this study will demonstrate the important roles of public libraries in building digitally inclusive communities.”

ICMA Chief Operating Office Ron Carlee further emphasized this point. “At ICMA we see libraries as playing an essential role in helping local government meet their greatest challenges. Partnering with ALA and the University of Maryland on this project will help bring greater understanding and awareness on the role of libraries on the critical issue of digital inclusion.”

OITP will serve in an advisory role with the design of the survey in the first year, then help with dissemination and advocacy efforts — including the development of policy white papers and convening a summit in 2015 to discuss study implications and related policy recommendations.

Project planning began October 1, 2012. A critical first step currently underway is the formation of the survey advisory committee. With additional input from the field, a redesigned national survey will launch in Fall 2013, and data from the 2013 survey will be available in Spring 2014.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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