Just in case anyone was thinking that Internet access at public libraries is some kind of frivolity …
â€śThere is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.â€ť
â€” Andrew Carnegie
I am a frequent user of Montgomery County library computers and Internet access. As a freelance writer working primarily from my home, the expertise of media specialists and the library’s technological offerings are a lifeline to me.
Recently I spent three weeks with my parents in their small Cape Cod town as they each dealt with an illness and a hospitalization. (Today both are at home and on the mend.)
While on the Cape, in order to keep some work going and keep my siblings fully informed, I used two local public libraries. The closest public library was the Jonathan Bourne Public Library in the town of Bourne. My parents live in a village in the town of Bourne.
I can remember when the Bourne Library operated from the front rooms of a private home. It was about 50 years ago.
Summers, the place was a joy in my childhood, and in it I discovered magic â€” including the original Mary Poppins of the Mary Travers novels. The spirit of magical tales has never left me.
The magic was still there when I walked into the much larger Bourne library of today and asked to use a computer and access the Internet.
â€śOf course,â€ť said the librarian.
I was prepared to give her my father’s library card and PIN number.
â€śNot necessary, â€śshe replied. â€śJust know black and white copies are 10 cents and color copies are a quarter. I’ll have them in my office when you need them.â€ť
â€śShould I sign somewhere?â€ť
â€śNeed my license?â€ť
â€śNo. It’s computer number three to your right over there.
I was astounded.
And when it made sense to use my laptop, free Wi-Fi was available. At another nearby library, free library Wi-Fi was accessible in the coffee shop up the street. The info about the Wi-Fi link said something like, â€śLibrary west parking lot.â€ť
I had expected nothing but problems and felt like I had been given a treasure.
Here is why we must not cut back any further on Montgomery County and other public libraries.
In 2009 â€” in the midst of recession â€” 77 million people, nearly one-third of Americans aged 14 and over, used library computers and Internet access.
This information and most of what follows comes from the first large-scale study (conducted throughout 2009) of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the way library patrons used the free technology service, why they use it and how it affected their lives.
Published in March 2010, the report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, 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*.
â€˘ Low-income adults are more likely to rely on the public library as their sole assess to computers and the Internet than any other income group.
â€˘ In 2009, 44 percent of those living below the federal poverty line used computers and accessed the Internet at their public libraries.
â€˘ The use of library technology had significant impact in critical areas: employment, education, health and making community connections.
â€˘ More than three-quarters of those who used 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.
â€˘ The last day I went to the Bourne Library last week, I used the side entrance. In a narrow passage, I approached the restrooms, and I could see that the ladies room door was open.
From it, a voice floated into the hall.
â€śMirror, mirror on the wall. Who is fairest of them all?â€ť
I paused at the doorway and looked in. Oblivious to me a pretty, 40-something member of the custodial staff was hard at work on the mirror.
â€śYou are,â€ť I said.
She looked at me and beamed.
And for me, a light of gratitude for the magic of libraries beamed for the rest of the day.
*An independent agency of the federal government, the Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support (grants)Â for the nationâ€™s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.