Free public libraries have always been referred to as “houses of knowledge.” How people get that knowledge is starting to change, and with it, so must the structure of our libraries.
In libraries across America, the Internet has become the tool to access information more so than books. A 2014 study from Pew Research Center found that 95 percent of Americans think it is important for public libraries to provide free access to computers and the Internet to the community, on par with the percentage of people that think it is important for libraries to provide access to books.
As Americans utilize the Internet for information more and more each year, libraries in urban areas are having trouble keeping up with the demand. People are coming to libraries for the Internet, so they can learn, apply for a job, communicate with a relative, and countless other things people with home access take for granted.
The Bergen Record recently interviewed the director of the Paterson Free Public Library. She detailed the mad rush they get each morning of people trying to get connected, and the two-hour wait throughout the day.
Across the Hudson, New Yorkers are having the same problems. Outside of Clason’s Point Library in the Bronx, New Yorkers who are fortunate enough to have their own devices log onto the libraries Internet while they wait outside to get in to use the printers for résumés.
The annual cost of high-speed Internet can be close to $1,000 per home. For many, that cost is too high. According to a study by the Center for Technology and Government at the University of Albany, has left 2.9 million people in the city on the wrong end of the digital divide.
While urban libraries are struggling to keep up with the demand for computers, suburban libraries have computer centers going unused. In Paramus, NJ, where most residents have home connectivity, the library is reducing its supply of computers, since residents often bring their own laptops. Ten miles away in Paterson, NJ, the libraries have a waiting list each day after school for students to complete their assignments.
Our reliance on the Internet for information has greatly increased over the years. Libraries are trying to keep up with demand, but are struggling to find the funds necessary in urban areas.
We need to continue to work on getting everyone connected, so libraries can continue to be houses of knowledge. To accomplish this task we must meet the demand on both ends. We need to provide libraries with more funding for computers and Internet, but we also need to make home Internet more affordable with limited funds to that they don’t need to rely on libraries for access.
Kurt Peluso is the New Jersey regional manager at EveryoneOn.