Information Use Management & Policy Institute
Research Planning Development Evaluation Policy & Education
Public Libraries & the Internet
U.S. Public libraries began interacting with and using the Internet in the early 1990s.
Since 1994, Bertot & McClure have conducted studies roughly every two years that track
the level of involvement, key issues, trends, and other aspects of public library Internet
use. The studies, funded over the years by the American Library Association's
Washington Office, the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science
(NCLIS), the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, explore issues such as:
Public library Internet connectivity;
Public Internet access workstation availability;
Internet connectivity bandwidth;
Internet-based service and resource availability (e.g., databases, training, digital
Filtering of Internet-based content and services; and
Costs and issues associated with Internet connectivity (e.g., funding for technology
infrastructure, e-rate, maintenance and upgrades of technology, staff skills requirements).
As the context of public library Internet connectivity changes, so too does the nature of
the survey. The study continues to produce, however, important longitudinal data
regarding the level of public library involvement with and use of the Internet.
Uses of Study Data
The 2004 study is the most recent survey of Public libraries and the networked
environment conducted by the Information Institute. The data provided through this
survey serve to inform a broad cross section of the library community and policy makers
making decisions related to library funding and technology. In particular, the study:
Provides specific data regarding public library Internet connectivity, bandwidth, the
provision of technology training services and resources, and Internet service/resource
funding sources, to name selected key topics;
Enables librarians to compare their library to other similar libraries in their states and
across the country;
Enables the American Library Association, Public Library Association, and other
advocacy organizations, to make the case for continued and enhanced support for public
libraries and their provision of Internet-based services and resources to the communities
that libraries serve; and
Helps policy makers and others understand the needs and issues that public libraries face
when providing Internet-based services and resources.
Previous Study Usage
Over the years, data from these studies have informed the policy debates regarding the
role that public libraries play as a public Internet access presence within the communities
that libraries serve. Researchers, policy makers, advocacy groups, legal scholars, and
others have used the findings from previous studies in a number of ways, including:
The Supreme Court decision regarding the Children's Internet Protection Act (United
States v. American Library Association, 123 S.Ct. 2297 ) ;
Congressional testimony on a variety of issues related to the Internet and information
The Statistical Abstracts of the U.S. published by the U.S. Census Bureau (see Section
24, Information and Communications , Figure No. 1149).
Thus, the survey continues to be a significant source of information regarding the role of
public libraries in a networked environment.
Title: Bridge the Digital Divide for Educational Equity.
Authors: Mason, Christine Y.1 email@example.com
Dodds, Richard2 firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Education Digest; May2005, Vol. 70 Issue 9, p25-27, 3p
Bridge the Digital Divide for Educational Equity
STUDENTS' technological savvy has challenged schools to make greater use of
computers and the Internet in their curricula. Unfortunately, not every student has the
same access to it, and the inability to keep pace has created a digital divide that continues
The digital divide particularly affects students who are black, Hispanic, Native American,
and poor. They are far less likely to have computers or Internet connections at home than
their Caucasian or Asian peers. While two-thirds of white children have gone online, just
45% of black children and 37% of Hispanic youth have.
For students without a connection at home, schools are the primary source of computer
access and often the only place they can go online. In addition, many students with
disabilities cannot use computers or participate in online activity because the equipment
in their schools is not compatible with their learning or physical needs.
As technologies continue to advance and provide enhanced resources for learning and
research, critical questions arise: Will these technologies be available to all schools? Will
they enable schools to close or at least narrow the digital divide?
We seem to be at a pivotal point in addressing inequities. Failure to provide adequate
technological resources for all translates into failure to provide quality education, creating
an even greater divide between affluent and poor school districts.
Some insights into the possibilities of future technology can be gained by examining five
recent innovations likely to impact elementary schools in the next five to 10 years.
Wireless networks provide an alternative for schools that aren't adequately wired to
access the Internet. They can provide improved access to online learning as well as the
ability for students to receive distance learning instruction from teachers with certain
skills and specialties not available at their schools.
Electronic portfolios. As electronic storage capacity becomes greater and more
sophisticated, so does the ability of schools to establish and maintain detailed and
comprehensive electronic portfolios for all students. These cumulative portfolios would
document current student learning and record progress over the years.
Portable technologies. An example of the possibilities of small, portable technologies is a
projected high school in Philadelphia where every student will have wireless personal
tablet computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs), rather than traditional desktops.
Attractive technologies. The continuing enhancement of computer-aided instruction
utilizes features from video and computer games to motivate students and keep them
engaged. These software programs often provide immediate feedback and, with inclusion
of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), can provide information in formats
accommodating a wide array of learning styles and needs. A major time-saving feature of
UDL is that supports are built in as the software is manufactured and therefore are ready
when teachers and students need them. With UDL, teachers can dramatically reduce time
spent developing alternative materials or helping students with trouble reading and
writing. For example, students can use UDL to enlarge print, have materials read to them,
or even dictate test answers.
Virtual schools. A WestEd study estimated 40,000 to 50,000 students were enrolled in
online courses in 2001-2002 and at least 14 states have sanctioned online "virtual
schools." Many of these are privately-operated charter schools, some supporting home
schooling. While virtual schools began at the secondary level, a number are now
operating at the elementary level as well, supplementing instruction mostly in rural and
To address the digital divide, schools must provide full access for special student
populations--especially those with disabilities--to the Internet, distance learning, and
multimedia materials. Some resources are now available as specially designed assistive
technologies. In fact, a software program using voice commands for a keyboard,
originally designed for the hand-impaired, is now a tremendous tool for students with
difficulty learning to use keyboards.
Some technology solutions are costly and require additional funding. However, many
useful low-cost technologies are available, and schools must consider them in evaluating
and ordering new technology.
While adequate funding is essential to close the digital divide, funding spent unwisely
will not help. Decisions on purchase of technologies should be integrated within a plan
developed with adequate consideration of educational, technological, and societal trends.
Solutions must address the different but critical needs of students in poverty, those for
whom English is a second language, and others with disabilities denying them access to
classroom technologies. These concerns require that schools have someone on staff,
perhaps a technology specialist, stay informed and up-to-date on technologies that will
facilitate learning for special populations, and that teachers receive sufficient training to
To ensure all students can access the Internet, students with special needs can benefit
from features like Web trackers, which let them make their own decisions on font size,
color, and other UDL features. Personalized features students use with their computers
stay "turned on" when they are on the Internet or participating in distance learning.
This type of behind-the-scenes support is available from ADA & IT Technical Assistance
Centers at www.adata.org. These centers can help schools with technology planning and
purchasing decisions, as well as technology implementation.
Solutions to technology inequities ultimately rest with principals in their role as
instructional leaders. Their experience and wisdom will be tested over the next few years
as they strive to narrow the digital divide with policies based on fairness and
consideration for the technologically disenfranchised. Addressing the digital divide is a
small step that could make an enormous difference in educational equity for the nation's
By Christine Y. Mason and Richard Dodds
One-Stop Searching Bridges the Digital Divide
Abstract: This article discusses several techniques for solving the digital divide problem.
The term digital divide is often used to describe the difficulty of making information
easily available, despite the explosion in networked collections on digital content.
Metadata or federated search is a technique which eliminated the need to query one
information collection after another sequentially to find the right answer. Through a
simple user interface, federated search tools allow an individual to launch dozens or
hundreds of searches with one query. Another advance is linking. Open URL-enabled
link resolvers provide end-users the direct link to available full-text information. Bridging
the gap between citations and the online full text of articles, these systems provide
maximum usage of the electronic journal subscriptions while satisfying the user's instant
access expectation. These new technologies represent major advances in search
technology and content delivery, and are key factors in driving research productivity
gains. As of July 2004, few vendors are in a position to provide a seamless solution
integrating federated searching and linking. By facilitating simultaneous searching across
multiple internal and external resources, and by taking the extra step of linking to the
desired content, there has been a major step in bridging the digital divide. INSET:
ENCompass and MuseGlobal.
The term "digital divide" is often used to describe the difficulty of making information
easily available, despite the explosion in networked collections of digital content. A lot of
information is available only from the so-called "hidden Web"--the collections of
publishers, aggregators, libraries, archives, etc., which are either not readily discovered
via a Web browser, or are restricted by digital access rights.
Even with current technology and authorized access, it isn't easy to find the information
required for a particular task. Researchers and knowledge workers face a steep learning
curve to figure out where to look for the most relevant information, and then understand
how to construct the most effective search query for each separate system. The practical
problem begins with the sheer number of disparate data sources, all having their own
sign-on and authentication processes, user interfaces and search query languages. The
information discovery process is not intuitive, and is often frustrating.
New Tools Improve Search Productivity
New techniques are now improving the efficiency and ease of searching, helping to locate
desired information wherever it resides.
One of these techniques, called "meta-search" or "federated search," eliminates the need
to query one information collection after another sequentially to find the right answer.
Through a simple user interface, federated search tools allow an individual to launch
dozens or hundreds of searches with one query. The federated search engine translates the
search into the required protocol and search language for each target source, returning a
single set of results.
Another advance is linking. Open URL-enabled link resolvers such as Endeavor's
LinkFinderPlus provide end-users the direct link to available full-text information.
Bridging the gap between citations and the online full text of articles, these systems
provide maximum usage of the electronic journal subscriptions while satisfying the user's
"instant access" expectation.
These new technologies represent major advances in search technology and content
delivery, and are key factors in driving research productivity gains. Few vendors,
however, are in a position today to provide a seamless solution integrating federated
searching and linking. Endeavor Information Systems teamed with federated search
technology provider MuseGlobal, Inc. to develop ENCompass™. One Endeavor
customer, the Loyola-Notre Dame Library, now experiences a 30-second wait for search
results instead of spending 30 minutes searching in multiple databases looking for the
Friendlier Federated Search
The ENCompass module for federated searching of e-content, ENCompass for Resource
Access, applies four different protocols to search remote resources: Z39.50; XML
Gateways; Web services; and HTTP searching. Because it searches for multiple formats
of resources, user productivity is enhanced with improved integrated search results. Users
get a single-source solution for searching all available e-resources, including licensed
content and local digital content.
Resource owners also benefit from a user-friendly federated search for e-resources. With
self-sufficient users navigating a single interface to search an unrestricted number of
resources, organizations find savings in staff time and have the opportunity to leverage
costly electronic resources and subscriptions.
By facilitating simultaneous searching across multiple internal and external resources,
and by taking the extra step of linking to the desired content, there has been a major step
in bridging the digital divide. To learn more, visit
By Roland Dietz, President and CEO, Endeavor Information, Systems and Kate Noerr,
President and CEO, MuseGlobal, Inc.