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How Libraries are Crucial to Underserved Population w/out In-Home Broadband

social experiment

social experiment

A recent PEW survey found that Public library usage has dropped over the years, but certain populations, in particular Hispanic and African American communities are least likely to want to see their local library close.

When asked how much they would be affected by a library closing, 50 percent of Hispanic respondents said that it would have a “major impact” on them and their families, as compared with 32 percent of all respondents, the Washington Post summarized

Among African Americans, that number was 35 percent.
I live in a very large metropolitan urban town and for the past two weeks, I’ve worked almost exclusively at my local public library, specifically in the computer rooms.

It was a great social experiment as well as it gave me an enhanced appreciation and even further awareness of the importance of public libraries for underserved communities and those who lack in-home broadband access.

During my observations of those who sat around me and sought help from the librarian, I noticed several elderly people using the public computers to apply for social services and other benefits.

Most federal and state benefits offices have moved most of their application processes online, requiring those, including the poor and elderly, who traditionally are least likely to have in-home broadband access to find a way to apply.

There were quite a few job seekers using the computers but not just to apply for positions. Several took online training courses and used the online job bulletins to submit paperwork for positions they already were hired for or had to take certification courses for to get to the next stage in the interview process.

Many simply wanted to access their emails. I helped a few older patrons and even some learning disabled ones get online. Computer skills courses would definitely be a great addition to libraries, as respondents to the PEW study noted. 

Privacy is an issue, however.

Without alternatives for more private access, several computer room users also conducted personal banking and to pay bills or put in requests for lab tests and x-rays.

Fortunately, most library systems are set up to automatically scrub and delete all cookies, files and other personal identifying information left from the previous user at the end of each session. 

Still, it’s not the best place to be submitting sensitive information.

My local library is staffed with patient (mostly) people who take their time to help out struggling patrons.

It even has  a system whereby some users can sign up to have a librarian sit down and fill out crucial forms for them that includes private information in a more secure space and setting.

It also offers 5 free print outs daily, as a courtesy.

I overhead a librarian explain that it makes no sense to nickel and dime some people who are clearly in need, thus the Un-publicized  decision to offer free printing . Indeed!

The PEW Study participants seemed to understand the ongoing value to public libraries that those privileged with in-home access may take for granted. 

WashPo summarized:

“Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said libraries should offer early literacy programs for preschool-aged children; the same amount of people said that libraries should work with schools. Technology education for seniors and online privacy and security education were the next two top activities on the list. Other respondents said that they also look to the library for information on finding jobs, or for programs specifically directed at helping groups such as veterans or immigrants. ”

Nonetheless, overall usage is down.

“Book borrowing has dropped a bit in the past three years, down to 66 percent from the 73 percent Pew recorded with a similar study in 2012. Patrons are also likelier to get e-books from libraries — 6 percent of Americans have done this,” the study said.

I love my local library and it is too bad a local survey found that library usage is down nationwide.

I know for certain that is not the case for the wide swaths of the population still lacking in-home broadband. 

 

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