The broadband stimulus program has had a strong positive impact on U.S. public libraries, according to a new report  from the American Library Association.

The ALA calls the document, titled “U.S. Public Libraries and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP),” a “pre-publication report” – to be followed by a more in-depth report scheduled for release in April. Nevertheless, the pre-publication report includes a range of statistics about the impact of the broadband stimulus program on U.S. libraries and offers a detailed look at the impact in several states.

The BTOP program affected libraries through three different grant programs, including the public computer center,  sustainable broadband adoption and comprehensive community infrastructure programs. The report focuses primarily on public computer center and sustainable broadband projects that were led by libraries.

Community infrastructure grants went to network operators to cover some of the costs of bringing high-speed connectivity to libraries and other anchor institutions. The report notes that nearly one-third of libraries offered connection speeds greater than 10 Mbps in fiscal year 2012, up from 18% two years earlier – an achievement the report credits, in part, to the BTOP program. The report also notes that 41% of libraries report insufficient Internet connection speeds, down from 45% the previous year.

Libraries and job searches
The report estimates that 1744 libraries were impacted through public computer center grants and 226 libraries were impacted by sustainable broadband adoption grants, which were aimed at providing computer training.  In addition 1438 libraries received broadband connectivity through the infrastructure program, the report estimates.

Other notable statistics include:

  • 13% of libraries added or replaced computers with BTOP funds in FY2012 and 12% plan to add or replace computers with such funds in FY2013.
  • Public libraries reported an average of 16.4 computers in FY2012, up from 14.2 computers two years earlier. 65% of libraries report insufficient public computers to meet demand, down from 76% the previous year.
  • 62% of libraries report being the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities.
  • 77% of Americans aged 16 and older say free access to computers and the Internet is a “very important” service of libraries
  • 30 million people relied on library public access technology for job search resources and assistance in one year. Of these people, 76% used the library’s computers or Internet access for their job search and 23% received job-related training at the library.
  • 58% of U.S. adults have public library cards.

The report also includes detailed descriptions of the impact of the BTOP program on libraries in 19 states and the District of Columbia, many of which include anecdotal evidence about the program’s impact. There are numerous examples of people who credit their ability to find a job through the availability of computers and computer training from their local library, including several examples of people who lost jobs they had held for a long time and had to shift to a different occupation.

Image courtesy of flickr user Janne M.

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