Survey Shows How Berkeleyans Stay Connected at the Berkeley Public Library

December 12, 2011

Contact: Douglas Smith

Every year, millions of people head to their local public library to access the online information they need to pursue their version of the American dream: a better job, a college degree, American citizenship. In today’s challenging economy, even more people – including an increasing number of middle-income families squeezed by the recession – turn to computers at their local public library to seek and find jobs, access training, or apply for government services. Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to connect to the Internet in the past year, according to a national report. The Berkeley Public Library (BPL) provides computer and Internet access to all members of our community. For many people in our community who lack Internet accesses at home, the local public library is the place to get connected. Recently, Berkeley’s Library was a pilot site for the IMPACT Survey, an extension of the U.S. IMPACT Study, organized by the University of Washington Information School. The 2009 IMPACT Study was a nationwide investigation of the ways library patrons access and use computers and the Internet at public libraries, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. The study findings have helped public libraries improve public access services and advocate for better support of public access computing. Berkeley Library patrons provided a strong sampling of 411 responses to the IMPACT Survey. A number of interesting observations can be made:

  • 48% of respondents use the Library’s computers.
  • 34% use the Berkeley Public Library wireless network with their own computers.
  • 88% have regular access to a computer and the Internet outside the Library, but for a variety of reasons still make use of computer resources and Internet access at the Library.

One of the main survey measures was public access technology use within eight general areas of activity. These percentages demonstrate that Berkeleyans are making extensive practical use of the Library's internet connectivity, and confirming that the Berkeley Public Library is "connecting the disconnected":

  • 37% Civic engagement
  • 34% Social inclusion
  • 33% Health
  • 31% Employment
  • 31% eCommerce
  • 30% Education
  • 29% eGovernment

Even more compelling is how the survey drills down into more specific uses:

  • Of the 31% using Library technology for employment purposes, 21% were searching for a job opportunity and 5%--13 individual Library patrons in this sampling alone--were hired for a new position.
  • 10% reported using the Library's tech access to start and manage a business, and reporting successes: 10 persons in this sampling reported their business increased or that they developed business-to-business contracts as a result of connectivity at the Library.
  • Accessing eGovernment services is increasingly taking place in the virtual world, and the Library is providing that link for many citizens: over 17% of users are accessing and submitting online forms, applying for services, permits and licenses.
  • Specific "eCommerce" numbers also demonstrate some of the critical and essential uses of Library Internet access: 11% are finding housing, 15% taking care of banking needs, 13% buying or selling products, and 25% are researching products or services.

Finally, a very large proportion (90%) of respondents feel that it's important that the Berkeley Public Library provides free access to computers and the Internet for the community, a demonstration that Berkeleyans highly value the access to technology they can find at the Berkeley Public Library. The full Berkeley Public Library survey results may be accessed online at: Staff will continue to make use the IMPACT Survey results to inform future plans for enhancing digital literacy in the Berkeley community, through the programs and services the Library offers.