Sarah Ormes, UKOLN
McClure, Syracuse University
In late 1995/early 1996 comprehensive surveys of public library Internet
connectivity took place in the UK and USA. The data produced from these surveys
gives the first opportunity to develop a transatlantic picture of Internet
activity in public libraries. It is now possible to see whether the same
patterns of usage or non usage are appearing in both countries, whether there
are similar trends or differences in the development of services and whether
both library services are encountering the same barriers which are preventing or
limiting public library Internet connectivity. It will be an interesting
opportunity to draw conclusions about public library Internet connectivity
across the different cultures in which they operate.
BACKGROUND TO THE USA SURVEY
The 1996 American survey (Bertot, McClure and Zweizig, 1996) was the second
national survey of public library connectivity. (The full text of the report on
the results on the survey can be found on the WWW at
http://istweb.syr.edu/Project/Faculty/McClure-NSPL96/NSPL96_T.html). It built on
the 1994 National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) survey
entitled Public Libraries and the Internet: Study Results, Policy Issues, and
Recommendations (McClure, Bertot and Zweizig, 1994). This survey was undertaken
to provide the sort of data without which 'policy makers cannot begin to assess
the potential roles for public libraries in the electronic networked
environment' (McClure, Bertot and Zweizig, 1994). At this time policy for the
National Information Infrastructure (NII) was being developed and librarians
were keen to ensure that public libraries were included in its creation.
The NII aims to be a network of information systems which will encompass all
types of media and communication. It will be 'a seamless web of communications
networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that will put vast
amounts of information at users' fingertips' (Agenda for Action, 1993). This is
a stated policy aim of the American Government which created a special task
force to encourage public and private institutions to take part. The Government
is not funding the creation of the Infrastructure, this it believes should be
left to the machinations of the free market and commercial enterprise, but it is
guiding and encouraging its development. There has been Governmental emphasis on
public institutions being included in the development of the infrastructure. The
survey was therefore commissioned by NCLIS in order to help inform the debate
that was taking place and to help librarians develop and identify roles which
they could undertake as part of the NII.
The 1996 survey updated and expanded the 1994 survey and provided an even
more accurate and comprehensive picture of public library Internet activity. The
aim of the new survey was both to provide data which would inform policy makers
and now also indicate the changes in Internet services and connectivity which
had taken place over the last two years. There was also an emphasis on
identifying the costs involved with such services.
Key questions from the 1994 survey were still included in order to provide
longitudinal data for 1994-1996 public library Internet involvement changes. A
questionnaire was posted to participating public libraries during the second
week of 1996 with a request for response by January 31, 1996. A survey
announcement postcard preceded the survey mail out by one week. In addition,
respondents with graphical access to the World Wide Web could complete the
survey on-line through a Web site (Bertot and McClure, 1996). A second mailing
of 250 surveys was distributed on February 26, 1996 to selected non-responding
libraries to increase the response rate within certain Census Region and
population of legal service area strata. The study team halted data collection
activities on March 15, 1996. In all, 1,495 surveys were distributed (not
counting the second mailing to non responding libraries). A total of 1,059
surveys were returned for a 70.8% response rate.
BACKGROUND TO THE BRITISH SURVEY
The UK survey was the first survey to explore the level of Internet activity
in UK public libraries. (The full text of the report on the results of the
survey can be found on the WWW at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/publib/lic.html). The
survey was commissioned by the Library and Information Commission as it needed
data on this topic in order to be able to effectively advise the Government on
the issue of public library Internet connectivity. The survey was undertaken by
the UK Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN) on behalf of the
Commission and was managed by the (as then) British Library Research and
Development Department (BLR&DD).
UKOLN agreed to complete the survey within a very tight schedule as the
Commission required the information as soon as possible to feed into developing
policy and planning decisions. The questionnaire therefore had to be brief and
kept reasonably simple. The 167 questionnaires were sent out on the 21st
November 1995 to the 167 library authorities in the UK. One week later (over a
period of three days) the responses to the questionnaires were collected by
telephone. A 100% response rate was achieved which ensured that the results
represented a complete picture of the UK situation. The statistics were collated
and the resulting 'Library and Information Commission public library Internet
survey' (Ormes, Dempsey, 1995) report was written. The survey was intended to be
a quick snapshot of the state of public library Internet connectivity. In
comparison the USA survey was designed to provide a in-depth picture of the USA
situation. This difference can be seen in the more detailed statistics that the
USA survey team were able to produce.
It should be noted that the UK and USA statistics often cannot be directly
compared without some qualification. The USA survey explored Internet
connectivity in terms of individual libraries. The UK survey team however,
looked at Internet connectivity in terms of library authorities. Library
authorities are the organisational bodies for public libraries based in a
specific geographical area (usually counties) and can be responsible for
anywhere up to 100 individual libraries. This means that some of the UK
statistics are less specific then the USA statistics as one statistic may refer
to an authority as a whole, that is 100 separate libraries, instead of an
individual service point. In some cases it was possible to produce statistics in
terms of individual libraries in the UK but not always. Where this has been the
case it will be highlighted. However, a comparison of the two country's results
still provides a considerable amount of interesting information about the
development of Internet services on both sides of the Atlantic.
RESULTS OF THE SURVEYS
HOW MANY LIBRARIES ARE CONNECTED?
Figure One : Percentage of Individual Public Libraries with Internet
Connections in the USA and UK.
Figure One shows the great difference in the number of libraries with
Internet connections in the USA and the UK. Nearly 45% of all American public
libraries have access to the Internet whereas only 3% of all UK public libraries
have similar access. In America a member of the public has a one in four chance
of walking into a public library and being able to get access to the Internet ,
in the UK it is a less than one in a hundred chance. This great difference in
connectivity indicates that the UK public library service is far behind its
American equivalent in terms of Internet service development. This is not
surprising as public libraries in the USA have been exploring the opportunities
that the Internet offers to them since the early 1990s. Most UK public library
Internet activity has only taken place within the last two years.
There are a number of reasons for this discrepancy between the two
countries. Generally America takes advantage of new technology before the UK.
The Internet developed more rapidly in America and although UK academics were
involved with the Internet quite quickly it took more time for public librarians
to become aware of its relevance to them. This lack of awareness may be due to a
lack of a concerted government policy to exploit the developing potential of the
new telecommunications and computer technologies. There was, in other words, no
one guiding public libraries towards an involvement with the Internet. In
American this situation was different due to the Clinton administration's
development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII). This commitment
could be seen in President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union Address when he
We must work with the private sector to connect every classroom, every clinic, every library, and every hospital in American to a national information superhighway by the year 2000.
So although the Government itself was not providing a free infrastructure
for public libraries to plug into, it specifically encouraged private companies
to undertake this task. More importantly the administration defined a vision
which both librarians and private enterprise could aim to fulfil. It not only
made private companies consider connecting libraries but it also brought to the
attention of librarians themselves that the Internet was something that
concerned them. This high profile, high status emphasis by the Government helped
develop awareness about the need for Internet services in public libraries.
In the UK there was no similar policy or taskforce and the development of
Internet services outside of academic institutions has consequently been slower
and lower in profile. The UK Government, like its USA equivalent, has stated
that the development of broadband superhighway should be done by private
enterprise. However, the main aim of the UK policy has been to ensure that the
regulatory framework is open to the private sector and not dominated by the
ex-state owned monopoly of British Telecom. There has been no political vision
which acknowledges the importance of the civil role of public libraries when it
comes to the Internet. There has also been no encouragement for private
enterprise to connect libraries to the Internet, consequently development has
been slower and awareness lower.
Another factor which has been slowing the development of UK public library
Internet connectivity has been funding shortages. This issue will be discussed
later in the paper.
Consequently, even when the current state of UK public library Internet
connectiveness is compared with the results of the 1994 NCLIS survey UK public
libraries are still well behind their American counterparts. In 1994 21% of all
American public libraries had some kind of Internet connection, in 1994 in the
UK it is doubtful that even 0.1% of public libraries had an Internet connection.
In comparison the USA picture of public library Internet connectivity
appears to be reasonably bright. Nearly half of all public libraries have some
kind of connection and the numbers are increasing rapidly. However, when the
statistics were analysed in terms of the legal service area population each
library serves (which gives a good indication of the size of the library and
whether it serves a rural or urban area) a worrying trend became clear.
|Population of Legal Service Area||% Public Libraries Connected|
|Less than 5,000||13.3||31.3||+18.0|
|Total % of public libraries connected||20.9%||44.6%||+23.7%|
Figure Two : Public Library Internet Connectivity by Population
Served 1994-1996 in the USA
Figure two shows the percentage of Internet connectivity by public library
depending upon their legal service area population. This figure also shows the
results of the 1994 survey and the consequence increase in the number of
By looking at the connectivity in this way the statistics reveal
discrepancies in the extent of public library Internet connectivity based on
population size. Despite an 18% increase in Internet connectivity for public
libraries serving population areas under 5,000 between 1994 and 1996, public
libraries serving populations of under 5,000 in 1996 were significantly (58.6%)
less likely to be connected to the Internet than those libraries serving larger
populations from 100,000 to 1 million +.
This discrepancy in the rate of public library Internet connectivity between
smaller and larger population areas represents a 4% increase over 1994. The
Internet-connectivity gap between public libraries serving larger and smaller
communities appears to have increased between 1994 and 1996, despite significant
overall increases in public library Internet connectivity. It may be that
variations in telecommunication and information service rates for different size
population groupings contribute to different levels of public library
connectivity to the Internet.
Although the UK survey could identify the number of individual libraries
with Internet connectivity it was not possible to produce statistics in terms of
the legal service area population each of these libraries served. The only
population figures that were collected had been for the authority as a whole.
However, as most authorities have only one or two Internet connections and they
tended to be held at the central library (the library that aims to serve the
whole county) it still seemed useful to look at these statistics.
|Population of Legal Service Area||% Public Libraries|
|1 million +||100%|
|Less than 5,000||0%|
|Total % public library authorities connected||53%|
Figure Three :Public Library Authority Internet connectivity by
population served in the UK
The general trend is similar to the USA. The larger the population served by
the authority the greater the likelihood that the authority will have some kind
of Internet connection. This pattern is slightly broken by the authorities in
the 10,000-24,999 category where 50% have an Internet connection. In the whole
of the UK there are only two authorities which serve this level of population
and hence the 50% represents one authority out of two. As this is such a small
data sample it is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions.
Figure Four - A Comparison of UK and USA public library Internet
connectivity by legal service area population.
Figure Four shows these statistics in graph form and clearly indicates how
the percentage of libraries/authorities with Internet connections increases as
the population served also increases.
As more public libraries establish Internet connections and as public
libraries are increasingly involved with electronic information services that
require high-speed broadband telecommunication services, access to affordable
advanced information and telecommunication services will become increasingly
important for public libraries to extend new electronic network service access
to wider communities. At present it is obvious that this type of network
saturation is only existent in high population areas. The smaller and rural
communities are in danger of being both missed out and missing out.
HOW ARE THEY CONNECTED?
There are several different methods libraries use to connect to the
Internet. The main two types are leased lines and dial up connections. Dial up
connections are the more limited form as they involve dialling into an Internet
service over a normal analogue telephone line. Data is downloaded to a PC
through a modem and this process is often slow and unreliable. Leased lines in
comparison are dedicated to Internet use only and are able to carry more data
and at a greater speed. Increasingly, the WWW is incorporating animation,
graphics and sound which are data hungry applications. Analogue phone lines
simply do have enough bandwidth to be able to effectively cope with this
increase in data usage. Leased lines are therefore becoming essential in order
to access the whole potential of the Internet. However, leased lines are more
expensive to set up.
Both surveys explored the type of connection that libraries were using and
the statistics showed a more developed level of connection in the USA than in
the UK. However, again libraries in the USA which served smaller population were
disadvantaged compared to urban libraries.
|1996||1994||Change In Percentage|
|Less than 5,000||23.5%||2.3%||21.2%|
Figure Five : 1994-1996 Public Library Leased-Line Connections by
Population of Legal Service Area and Region in the USA
Figure five shows the percentage of USA libraries with Internet connections
that use leased lines. The statistics show that the larger the library the
greater likelihood that is connected to the Internet using a leased line. As the
level of service that can be offered depends upon the bandwidth which is
available it would appear that libraries in urban locations are generally able
to offer higher levels of services than those in rural areas.
Despite this discrepancy overall there has been a great increase in the
number of libraries using leased lines. Thirty three percent more libraries now
connect to the Internet in the USA using leased lines than in 1994. This
suggests that either as libraries begin to develop their Internet services they
upgrade to leased lines or as new libraries connect to the Internet they are
immediately using leased lines. In both cases it indicates a much more developed
and high level Internet connection strategy.
In the UK the survey found that 71% of libraries connected to the Internet are using Dial Up and only 15% are using leased lines. This could again be indicative of UK libraries being at an early stage of Internet service development. Dial up involves the least initial outlay in terms of resources and consequently is ideal for experimentation. Libraries in the UK were initially cautious about the Internet and its relevance to their services and consequently were unwilling to commit large amount of resources to it, hence the reliance on dial up connections. It is to be expected, providing funding is available, that UK libraries will follow the American pattern and use leased lines more often.
HOW MUCH PUBLIC ACCESS IS AVAILABLE?
Offering public access to the Internet is a natural continuation of the role
of the public library as the gateway for any member of society to information.
As more and more information is held solely in electronic form it will be of
increasing importance that anyone, no matter how disadvantaged, should be able
to gain access to this information. If this access is not possible there is a
strong danger that an information rich/information poor dichotomy may develop in
society. Public libraries are therefore the means by which to prevent this
situation from happening. Librarians identified this as a role of great
importance for public libraries and already public access Internet services are
in existence. However, as both surveys showed this is still a very limited
service and in the USA varies depending upon the size of the local library.
|Population||NewsGroup||WWW text||WWW graphic||Gopher Svcs|
|1 million +||13.9%||13.0%||33.8%||54.6%||32.9%|
|Less than 5,000||12.1%||9.6%||15.7%||13.9%||17.8%|
Figure six : Public Access Internet Services Provided by
Internet-Connected Public Libraries by Population Served in the USA
The American survey looked at public access in terms of the type of service
offered. Figure six shows that there is still a heavy reliance on text only WWW
services (e.g. lynx) but those libraries serving larger populations are more
likely to provide public Internet access services using graphical interfaces
(WWW) than those public libraries serving smaller communities. Public libraries
which provide public access to the Internet and serve the smallest legal service
area populations (less than 5,000) are 40.7%% less likely to offer advanced WWW
graphical services than Internet-connected public libraries serving populations
of one million +. Internet-connected public libraries serving smaller
communities are more likely to provide public access to text-based Internet
services than to the more advanced multimedia graphical WWW Internet services.
Text-based Internet services are now limited as they do not allow access to
the full range of interactive multimedia services which are now available. At
present USA residents of smaller communities are not being afforded the same
range of public Internet access capabilities as those who use the services of
public libraries serving larger populations.
A comparison between the two surveys can only be done with qualification as
similar statistics were not collected. The UK survey did not request details
about the type of public Internet services being offered. However, the authors
have a strong knowledge of these services from other research and awareness
activities and so it seemed suitable to include some analysis here.
The UK survey found that 28 public libraries in the whole of the UK offered
public access to the Internet. This represents 0.7% of all UK public libraries.
This therefore again is an area where the UK is far behind the USA. However,
almost all public access is in the form of graphical WWW. As Internet service
development is taking place now (rather than two years ago as for American
libraries) the graphical WWW has been for many people their only experience of
the Internet. Whereas many USA libraries started to offer Internet access when
the Internet was mainly text dominated and consequently have chosen not to or
have been unable to upgrade to graphical services. In the UK text only services
are very rare as they are already considered as outmoded and outdated. There are
one or two exceptions to this rule but for most UK libraries the Internet
equates to the graphical WWW. By being slower in development UK libraries have,
odd though it seems, developed more up to date services (though in smaller
However, although UK public libraries may be proportionately more likely to
offer access to the graphical WWW they are also more likely to charge for this
service. The American survey revealed that in general USA public libraries do
not charge for Internet services. Of all public libraries providing public
access to Internet services, 3.6% have some type of fee for their graphical Web
services, 3.3% have some type of fee for their e-mail account services, 3.1%
have some type of fee for their text-based services, 1.7% have some type of fee
for their gopher-based services, and 1.2% have some type of fee for their
Although the UK survey also examined the percentage of public libraries who
were charging for Internet access it was not broken down into service type.
However, as already mentioned most libraries providing access to the Internet
will give access to the graphical WWW. Therefore the most suitable figure for
comparison with the USA will be the 3.6% of graphical WWW access - this
therefore is not an exact comparison. The UK survey showed that 43% of UK public
libraries who offer public access to the Internet are charging for this service,
compared to 3.6% in the USA.
This high level of cost recovery by UK libraries may be another reason for
their willingness to offer access to the graphical WWW. They may simply have no
choice but to offer graphical WWW access as they must offer top level services
in order to be able to attract customers. Charged Internet services may be being
seen as a means to generate income and support other more tradition services.
Funding and the cost of Internet services is perhaps the most crucial issue for
UK libraries as the service as a whole is in severe financial straits.
Although, sadly no doubt, American public libraries are also suffering from
similar financial troubles the situation is more critical in the UK when it
comes to the cost of public access Internet services. As seen in the survey the
majority of UK public libraries are connecting to the Internet using a dial up
connection. Whereas in America most local calls are free (apart from a fixed and
low monthly tariff) in the UK every phone call is charged for individually.
Consequently for the American librarian as long as the POP is within the local
area then the library will not be charged for the phone call no matter how long
it is. For the British librarian even if the POP is in the local area the
library will be charged for every second of the call. This charging method has
presented somewhat of a barrier to UK libraries as it means that the more
extensive and developed service that they offer the greater the cost will be to
the library. Any free access services that are offered are likely to be
inhibited as it will benefit the library if the patron spends as little time as
possible on the connection in order to keep costs down. Alternatively Internet
access will be made available only at times when the phone charges are at low
One interesting development in the UK has been the partnership between some
private companies and libraries in order to offer Internet services. Private
companies have approached libraries with an offer to set up, fund and staff a
commercial computer centre in the library. The library simply gives the company
floor space and receives a percentage of the profits in return. By this method
libraries are able to give their readers access to computer equipment e.g.
word-processing facilities, DTP, spreadsheets and Internet access without having
to invest any of their own resources. The companies do of course charge the
public for these services. This then, is a compromise between lack of resources
and the ideal of offering free access to these services. For many librarians it
is better to be able to provide charged access than no access at all.
Interestingly one of these companies, Input/Output, has stated that it sees the
Internet as a service that libraries will offer for free and consequently sees
no point in competing. It is now beginning to experiment with offering free
Internet access in its computer centres. It will be interesting to see if this
develops into a common pattern. These commercial centres are growing at a rapid
rate and look to become a familiar site in the larger of the UK's public
libraries. However, smaller libraries will probably not be approached as they
will not be profitable enough for the commercial companies.
By comparing the two surveys it becomes clear that at present the UK is
generally far behind in the development of Internet services and levels of
connectivity in comparison with the USA. There are similarities for the UK with
the situation of American libraries when the 1994 survey was undertaken. There
is a high reliance on dial up as a connection method, limited amounts of public
access and general low connectivity. However, when UKOLN was collecting
responses to the survey the survey team was aware that there was a noticeable
amount of enthusiasm about the Internet from the respondents and lots of
planning taking place. It is to be hoped that the UK will follow the American
pattern and the number of libraries connected to the Internet and offering
public access to it will increase rapidly in the near future.
However, although comparatively the USA does have a much higher level of
public library Internet connectivity this does necessarily mean that all
connected American libraries are offering high level Internet services to the
public. In terms of services and resources provision a number of levels of
service should be considered:
Sadly, most American public libraries and no UK public libraries have yet to
proceed much beyond resources provision and some self-assisted services. For
example, the American survey showed that 31% of public libraries with
connectivity to the Internet have such connectivity via a 28.8 baud dial-up
modem. While such connectivity is better than nothing, it does not enable the
access to and delivery of advanced and high quality services. Acceptable and
high quality resource provision, self-assisted, interactive, and knowledge-based
services require high-bandwidth at the T1 level and beyond.
So although the statistics that show that 93% of American public libraries
serving a population of between 500,000 and 999,999 are connected to the
Internet sound impressive they can also be misleading. For example, a library
that has one Internet dial-up connection and serves a legal population of about
200,000 would provide relatively poor Internet-based connectivity, and possibly
offers no services as described above; whereas there can be another public
library also serving a population of about 200,000 with 28 public access
workstations, with T1 connectivity, managing its own Website, and offering a
range of networked services. Both public libraries, for purposes of these
statistics, provide their population with Internet connectivity.
Thus, the sound bite that by March 1997 one can project 76% of American
public libraries to be connected to the Internet can be extremely misleading
until further analysis determines the type, extent, and impact of connectivity
that the library has, and the degree and quality to which networked electronic
resources and services are also being provided by the library. It is important
to recognize that for the public library services in both countries being
connected to the Internet is only a first, albeit important, step as they make
the transition to the global networked environment. Many additional steps are
required - some of which we may not now know - for the library to be a
successful and effective provider of networked information resources and
services. Certainly American libraries have taken more steps along this path
then UK libraries but they too still have a long way to go before they are
uniformly offering high level Internet services to the public.
Although UK libraries are generally following the same pattern of
development as American libraries in the development of Internet services there
is one worrying area of divergence. As the comparison of the two surveys has
shown UK libraries are far more likely to charge for public access to the
Internet than their American contemporaries. The funding crisis is making it
extremely difficult for UK libraries to be able to afford to offer free access.
However, by charging for services the libraries are creating a barrier for usage
for many of their more disadvantaged readers. But given the state of public
library finances it is difficult to see how this situation can be avoided. There
is therefore a real need for additional outside funding in UK public libraries
if they are to effectively operate as the citizen's gateway to the Internet.
The USA survey, although identifying general rapid growth in Internet
connectivity and services, also clearly showed that there are big discrepancies
between libraries of different sizes in the type of service they offer and the
way in which they are connected. Fewer smaller and more rural libraries provide
Internet access, use the more effective connection method of leased line
Internet access and offer public access services than larger and more urban
libraries. These discrepancies threaten the ability of the public libraries and
their communities to receive the benefits available through advanced information
and telecommunication services. There are also indications that a similar uneven
playing field is developing in the UK. This is an area where libraries on both
sides of the Atlantic need help from outside. There is a need for Government
policy mechanisms for discounted services to be made available for eligible
libraries. Mechanisms are needed which will level the advanced information and
telecommunications playing field for all libraries. Universal service mechanisms
must ensure that discrepancies in public library Internet connectivity -types,
costs and levels are eliminated in the future.
Betty Turock, the American Library Association's President 1995-96 stated
Nothing is more important to the future of our democracy than ensuring public access to information .that is why we need our nation's public, school, college and university libraries online.
Melvyn Barnes, the UK Library Association President 1995-96 stated that
Surely there can be no doubt that these technological advances must be the major development for public libraries as we move from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, and probably the most significant since public libraries were established.
These two quotes from the respective Library Association's presidents
indicate that on both sides of the Atlantic there is real commitment in the
profession to the ideal that public libraries should offer free and equal access
to the Internet. Without a doubt public libraries in the UK are currently
finding this ideal harder to reach than their American counterparts as they are
having to cope with more demanding pressures on resources, a lack of a
Government driven policy and a general greater cost of connection. In both
countries there is a developing trend of rural and smaller libraries being left
behind. If the two president's visions are to be met not only metropolitan and
comparatively rich libraries that have full Internet access but also the
smaller, less well funded and even less well used libraries. Considering that
this pattern has been identified on both sides of the Atlantic it indicates that
special attention should be paid to ensure that these libraries do not get left
behind. Access to the information superhighway will soon be essential for all
citizens, not just those who live in the cities or who can afford it.
The authors of this paper would like to thank the National Commission on
Libraries and Information Science and the Library and Information Commission for
funding and supporting respectively the USA and the UK surveys. The authors
would also like to acknowledge the assistance of John Carlo Bertot and Douglas
L. Zweizig, the co-authors of both the 1994 and 1996 NCLIS public library
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