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Libraries are growing digital hubs, offering varied services

ALA-librariesTechnology and digital resources are expanding rapidly in U.S. libraries, and important tech tools that serve entire communities are available at nearly all libraries across the nation.

The American Library Association’s 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey makes note of the large role libraries play in education, individual engagement, as well as new programs they are developing, such as maker programming and 3D printing.

Though digital resources are growing throughout libraries, the survey also found that this growth is uneven. For instance, fewer than half of rural libraries said they increased bandwidth speeds in the last 24 months, compared with 64 percent of urban libraries and 56 percent of suburban libraries.

(Next page: Top findings about libraries’ digital offerings)

Further complicating the divide between library resources is the fact that less than two-thirds (64 percent) of rural libraries said they have access to information technology staff, compared to 95 percent of urban and 85 percent of suburban libraries.

Sixty-six percent of all libraries surveyed said they would increase bandwidth if they could, and cited cost as the top barrier to moving forward with those plans.

When it comes to emerging trends, libraries are forging new paths and diversifying the resources that students and community members will find.

The top emerging trends include:
1. STEM maker spaces (16.8 percent)
2. Social media training (45.8 percent)
3. Wireless printing (33 percent)
4. 3D printing (2 percent)
5. Coding, development, hackathons (2 percent)

“Creating is becoming a new digital competency, and libraries are building and expanding their programs and services to meet these changing community needs,” said Ann Joslin, president of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, in a statement about the report. Joslin is the state librarian in Idaho, which implemented a pilot program to support library maker activities and new technologies and tools.

Libraries offer a range of technology access and training, such as:
• Public Wi-Fi (97.5 percent; up from 89 percent in 2012)
• Technology training (98 percent)
• eBook access (89.5 percent; up from 76 percent in 2012)
• Online homework assistance (96.5 percent)
• Online job resources (95.6 percent)

Results are based on a national survey conducted in the fall of 2013.

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