November 1, 2011: IMPACT Survey Pilot Test Completed


June 18, 2011: U.S. IMPACT Study Second Report

Washington, DC.Public libraries have become essential points of access to the Internet and computers in local communities, with nearly every library in the country offering public internet access. Yet, individual library practices can have significant affect on the quality and character of this public service. Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access, offers an analysis of the service in four public library systems and makes recommendations for strategies that help to sustain and improve public access service. The report was funded through a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and was produced by the University of Washington Information School.

Libraries play a vital role in providing services that are necessary in everyday life. The recommendations from this study provide a foundation to discuss the wide range of internal and external policy issues that affect the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the types of library resources and environments most patrons encounter in U.S. public libraries.

"This study identifies important best practices that can help libraries improve patron experience and contribute to positive learning outcomes," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. "This report will be very useful for educating the public and provides actionable recommendations for policymakers and funders as they consider future efforts in this area."

Report recommendations highlight the need to: Integrate Technology Services with Other Public Library Services Incorporate Activity-Based Budgeting to Help Account for the Cost of Public Access Services Provide Ongoing Technical Training for Library Staff Formalize Relationships with Community-Based Organizations Establish a Set of Common Indicators for Public Library Technology Services Use Data and Stories to Communicate the Value of Public Access Technology Leverage Library Technology Resources to Enhance Broadband Adoption and Support

The report's findings are based on 300 interviews with staff, users, funding agencies, community-based organizations, and support organizations in four case study sites:

Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland
Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Oakland Public Library, Oakland, California
Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, Iowa

"The libraries featured in this study reflect the service environments encountered by the vast majority of library patrons across the country. We hope that all libraries will recognize themselves in the characteristics of the case studies and be able to identify policy implications related to their operations from the discussions in the report," said Michael Crandall, senior lecturer at the University of Washington Information School and co-principal investigator of the study.

This second report is a companion volume to the first report in the U.S. IMPACT Study, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries. That report estimated that 77 million people used a library computer in 2009 and that:

  • 40% of the library computer users(an estimated 30 million people) used library resources to help address career and employment needs
  • 42% (32.5 million people) used library resources to help them with their education and training needs
  • 28 million people (37% of library computer users) made use of technology at their local libraries to access health and wellness information

The full report is available at

March 30, 2011: Online Survey Extended to Help Public Libraries Demonstrate the Value of Free Access to the Internet

The University of Washington, in partnership with the International City /County Management Association, and with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is extending the benefits of the U.S. IMPACT patron web survey by making it available to all public libraries to use in their own data collection, evaluation, and advocacy efforts. Public libraries will also benefit from new advocacy tools, including video instruction, to help them communicate the value of public access technology to policy makers.

Conducted in 2009, the U.S. IMPACT Study was the first large-scale investigation of the ways library patrons use computers and the Internet at public libraries, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. The study consisted of 4 case studies, a national telephone survey, and an online survey designed to supplement the telephone survey and ensure that PAC (public access computing) users from all walks of life were represented. Over 400 libraries participated in the online survey, which yielded 45,000 responses. The study was instrumental in providing evidence that access to the Internet at U.S. public libraries has a profound and measurable impact on individuals and communities. The study findings have helped public libraries throughout the United States advocate for funding and support of public access computing. In 2010, New York Public Library C.E.O. Paul LeClerc cited the study’s first report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, in interviews with national television and in the Huffington Post, waging a campaign that resulted in restoration of $26.8 million of the $36.8 million in proposed cuts.

The survey has been revised and refined, and the program will begin with a two-part pilot phase. A beta test of the new survey portal will take place in April and May of 2011 with a small number of library systems working closely with the IMPACT team to test the survey processes and tools. Between May and August, up to 400 libraries nationwide will take part in a larger piloting phase. For more information about the IMPACT Survey or to express interest in participating in the pilot study, please contact the survey coordinator at or 206.543-4324.

April 10, 2010: Opportunity for All Report Released

PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to a national report released today. In 2009, as the nation struggled through a recession, people relied on library technology to find work, apply for college, secure government benefits, learn about critical medical treatments, and connect with their communities.

The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. It was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Low-income adults are more likely to rely on the public library as their sole access to computers and the Internet than any other income group. Overall, 44 percent of people living below the federal poverty line used computers and the Internet at their public libraries.

Americans across all age groups reported they used library computers and Internet access. Teenagers are the most active users. Half of the nation's 14- to 18-year-olds reported that they used a library computer during the past year, typically to do school homework.

"People from all walks of life use library computers to perform routine and life-changing tasks, from emailing friends to finding jobs," said Michael Crandall, senior lecturer and chair of the Master of Science in Information Managment at the University of Washington Information School. "More than three-quarters of those who used the library Internet connections had access at home, work, or elsewhere. Oftentimes, they needed a faster connection, assistance from a librarian, or temporary access in an emergency."

The use of library technology had significant impact in four critical areas: employment, education, health, and making community connections. In the last 12 months:

  • 40 percent of library computer users (an estimated 30 million people) received help with career needs. Among these users, 75 percent reported they searched for a job online. Half of these users filled out an online application or submitted a resume.
  • 37 percent focused on health issues. The vast majority of these users (82 percent) logged on to learn about a disease, illness, or medical condition. One-third of these users sought out doctors or health care providers. Of these, about half followed up by making appointments for care.
  • 42 percent received help with educational needs. Among these users, 37 percent (an estimated 12 million students) used their local library computer to do homework for a class.
  • Library computers linked patrons to their government, communities, and civic organizations. Sixty-percent of users – 43.3 million people – used a library's computer resources to connect with others.

"There is no ambiguity in these numbers. Millions of people see libraries as an essential tool to connect them to information, knowledge, and opportunities," said Marsha Semmel, acting director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. "Policy makers must fully recognize and support the role libraries are playing in workforce development, education, health and wellness, and the delivery of government services."

The library's role as a technology resource has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent of libraries offered Internet access. Today, almost all public libraries offer visitors free access to computers and the Internet.

Unfortunately, up to a third of all libraries say they lack even minimally adequate Internet connections to meet demand. More report that they cannot provide the access their patrons truly need.

"Library technology services have created opportunity for millions of Americans, but public libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and increase the speed of their Internet connections," said Allan Golston, president of the United States Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "This study highlights what is at risk, particularly for low-income individuals who heavily rely on the public library for their technology, if future public and private investment in public libraries doesn't keep pace with demand."

The report's findings are based on nearly 50,000 surveys – including 3,176 from a national telephone survey and 44,881 web survey responses – from patrons of more than 400 public libraries across the country. Full Report.

March 24, 2010: U.S. IMPACT Study on KUOW Weekday

High Speed Internet: How Would It Change Us? Remember the sound of dial–up Internet? Over 35 percent of Americans do not have access to the Internet except through dial–up. Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a plan to make high–speed Internet available to all Americans. They want access to telephone poles, rooftops and public right–of–ways to string wires. For wireless services, they'll need more frequency, most of which is currently held by TV stations. Of course they want money from the Federal Government too.

How likely is all of this? How would universal access to high–speed Internet change America? In 2008, Washington had the absolute slowest Internet speed in the nation. How would faster Internet connection change the state?

Guests include:

  • Nena Walton is the spokesperson for NoaNet, a non–profit telecommunications corporation owned by 12 public utility districts throughout the state. She joins us from Wenatchee.
  • Valerie Fast Horse is the director of Information Technology for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. They were just notified that they have received a $12 million grant from federal stimulus money to build a high–speed Internet connection on the rural reservation in the Idaho Panhandle.
  • Bill Schrier is the Chief Technology Officer of the City of Seattle.
  • Samantha Becker is the project manager for a study at the University of Washington Information School's US Impact Study on the broad impacts of free access to computers and the Internet at public libraries. The study will be released Thursday.
  • Art Butler is an attorney at AtterWynne in Seattle. He is on Governor Gregoire's broadband advisory panel and has represented both telecommunications companies and users.
  • Mark Wigfield is the spokesman for the National Broadband plan.

Listen to it on KUOW.