Friday, September 29, 2006

Government Internet Use in Libraries

The August edition of Library Journal has several very good points about how the United States Government is putting libraries under pressure. Specifically, libraries are expected to provide public access to Government and State information and onliness services, but are not given increased funding to keep up with demands.

Between 1994 and 2004, library internet "connectivity" increased from 20.9% to 99.6%. In 1998, only 3.4 percent of public libraries had 10 or more public internet workstations, now the national average is 10.7 workstations. In 1998, two-thirds of public libraries had dial-up or direct connections. Now, only 2.1 percent have such slow connections. Wireless access in libraries has increased from 17.9% in 2004 to 36.4% in 2006. 72.8% of libraries are planning on replacing workstations.

Libraries are now expected to provide access for disaster victims, Medicare drug plans, benefits for children and families. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) sends people to public libraries to sign-up for assistance.

Along with these requests come more technical problems for libraries: Florida DCF applicants signing up on computers are told that "they must be using the Internet Explorer browser 5.5 service pack 1 or above." "The Firefox Browser won't work with this application, and popup blockers must be disabled." People go to libraries for assistance.

If the government wants people to participate in e-government, it is essential that new support be provided for libraries. The government should encourage an understanding of the important contributions which libraries can and do make for our citizens.

About 90 percent of library funding comes from local government. The best way to help libraries would be an amendment of the E-government Act of 2002 showing how libraries fit into the new mesh of federal e-government and also the introduction/revision of state and local directives on e-government.

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