Thursday, March 25, 2010

Attention Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan: Gates Foundation Study Indicates One-Third Of Americans Use Public Library Computers Regularly

I single out Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan in this post not because he's pissed me off politically or because he "hates" libraries; neither is the case. I do so because his previously-expressed public skepticism about the value of the Anchorage Municipal Library System (MLS) implies he doesn't fully grasp the value or impact of the MLS upon the greater Anchorage community. During the 2009 municipal election campaign, Sullivan was the only one of the six major mayoral candidates to express disapproval of 2009 Proposition 5, which would have issued $1,500,000 of General Obligation Bonds to pay the costs of library-related facilities renovations and related capital improvements at an increase of a mere $0.40 in property taxes per $100,000 valuation. Fifty-eight percent of the voters followed Sullivan's lead and voted No.

Here's a report from MSNBC that might alleviate the skepticism of Dan Sullivan and others who question the value of a municipal library system. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has just published the results of a study which show that 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. 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 212-page report is entitled "Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries". 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.


-- 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.

-- 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.

Undoubtedly, the statistics for Anchorage are similar. A report issued September 9th, 2008 indicates that the Anchorage Municipal Library System generated a benefit between $10- and $18-million annually. This means that for every $1 of Municipal operating support, APL gave back between $1.42 and $2.46 in benefits to the community. The report also revealed that the Anchorage MLS served more than 850,000 visitors a year through the main Z.J. Loussac Public Library and five branches, spanning from Chugiak-Eagle River to Girdwood. More than 33,000 children and adults participated in library programs and over 1.5 million items circulated in 2007.

But the Anchorage MLS does not merely offer Internet access through use of its computers. Because it is also wired for Wi-Fi, many people bring their own computers to the library and tap into the Wi-Fi. This serves as a force multiplier, further enhancing the value of the MLS in this area.

Part of the perception problem is the ambiguity attendant to library services. City services in general are grouped into two categories; necessities, and luxuries. Most people agree that transportation, public safety, and education are necessities, while parks and museums are considered luxuries (except by the wine-and-cheese crowd). But where do libraries fit in?

Libraries can be best characterized as a hybrid, being both a necessity and a luxury. The necessity is in keeping the Loussac Library open at all costs and to optimize services at this location. The luxury may be in keeping all the branch libraries optimized as well. Consequently, if budgetary constraints require the Anchorage MLS to take its fair share of cuts, the branches (except possibly the Eagle River branch, because of its greater distance from the Anchorage Bowl) should be sacrificed in order to keep the Loussac Library in optimal condition.

The bottom line: The Loussac Library should be treated as a necessity on the same level as transportation, public safety, and education.


  1. Those public libraries and the public computer access programs are socialist programs.

    You're not supposed to endorse creeping socialism.

    Or is it just the socialist programs you happen to like that are ok?

  2. Public libraries have been in existence in the United States for years, so they're hardly socialist.

    The selective and sparing application of just enough socialism to round out some of capitalism's sharper edges has never been objectionable. Social Security is an example of it; it assures a bare-bones social safety net below which no one need fall. But a fully-socialist system is objectionable.

  3. I'll add one more thought, Anonymous. Before you try to get all the socialism out of American society, there are two things we must do:

    (1). Stop the exportation of our production economy to foreign countries. Restore much of the old production economy where a guy could walk into a plant right out of high school and get an affordable job - a job enabling him to pay his own way.

    (2). Stop the influx of illegal aliens who devalue and steal jobs from Americans. Remove existing illegals by attrition.

    Accomplish those two goals, and we won't need as much "socialism".

  4. Socialism is defined as governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. I think it would be quite a stretch to say that lending books and allowing use of the internet & PCs would be "distribution of goods." To the contrary, giving people temporary access to these resources allows them the means to find good employment and thereby contribute to the private economy--a good investment for a community.