As part of a larger effort to demonstrate the value of Floridas public libraries, Dr. John Carlo Bertot, Professor and Associate Director of Florida State Universitys Information Use and Policy Management Institute, participated in a press conference held by the Florida Library Association (FLA) on Thursday, Nov. 29, in Tallahassee. He and representatives of the Florida Library Association and the public library community were on hand at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library in support of the FLAs call for the funding of Florida libraries in the wake of budget cuts.
“Our research shows that public libraries don’t have enough technology access,” said Bertot, citing the Institutes recent research on public libraries and the Internet. “However many computers they have, they need more. However much broadband and connectivity they have, they need more. For the millions of Floridians without a computer or Internet access at home, public libraries’ connectivity is a necessity.”
Earlier this year, Bertot and researchers at the Information Institute published a book based on findings of the 2007 National Survey of Public Library Computer and Internet Access along with the American Library Association. The title of the book is Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007. Bertot and Institute Director Charles R. McClure have been conducting these studies of public libraries and the Internet since 1994.
For more information about the Information Institutes research on Public Libraries and the Internet, visit http://www.ii.fsu.edu/plinternet/ . For more about the FLA press conference, see the press release below.
November 29, 2007
Jennifer Abdelnour (850-681-3200/ 850-766-8925; email@example.com)
Doing more with less, Florida public libraries continue to provide lifeline to essential services
Libraries are portals to technology, government and literacy
TALLAHASSEE, FL — Advocates for Florida’s public libraries came together today to promote the wide range of essential services they provide to Floridians, as well as call for their continued funding and support. Speaking from the steps of the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library, public library experts underscored the high value Floridians place on public libraries and the many unsung resources they offer to millions, including free access to information technology, government services and literacy development.
“Florida’s public libraries are not a luxury,” said Florida Library Association (FLA) president Charlie Parker. “Floridians of all ages treasure their local libraries as vital community connections and resources for fostering not only the literacy of our children, but our adults, as well,” he added.
Some of the most popular public services available at libraries today are free computer usage and access to information technology via high-speed Internet connections.
“For the millions of Floridians without a computer or Internet access at home, public libraries’ connectivity is a necessity,” said John Carlo Bertot, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Director of the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University.
Bertot added, “Public libraries have also become agents of e-government by providing residents across the state with Internet access to local, state and federal services, some of which are available only online.”
For instance, libraries and librarians provide direct assistance to those seeking information about how to apply for public assistance, file income taxes electronically, search for the perfect job, or how to become a U.S. citizen, among many other government services. In fact, both a national study and a survey of Florida’s public library directors found that some state agencies routinely direct recipients without computer access to local libraries to obtain assistance in navigating agency Web sites, applying for government benefits and services or just to seek additional information.
“Library users and government agencies expect libraries to provide easy access to government services, despite a lack of additional funding or training,” said Bertot.
Free year-round programming for youth is another example of vital public services Florida public libraries offer. This includes such resources as the Born to Read and Summer Library Programs, homework help, and story times and other school readiness and support programs. These services help develop new readers and library users by fostering the love of reading for reading’s sake.
“Research has shown the best predictor of children’s summer learning loss or gain is whether or not the child reads during the summer,” said Carole Fiore, independent Training and Library Consultant. “Studies indicate that children who participate in summer reading programs increase both their vocabulary and reading comprehension scores,” Fiore added.
In addition to the lifeline they extend to communities on a day-to-day basis, many libraries have also proven crucial to disaster recovery.
Public libraries have served as temporary shelters for hurricane survivors and emergency personnel, as communication centers and often as the only places with working Internet connections and phone lines. Disaster victims use these services to search for missing family, check weather and neighborhood conditions and to complete Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance claim forms online.
Despite the extensive information and resources Florida public libraries offer, they remain a remarkably efficient government service.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Florida libraries serve the public at an average cost of $26.59 per person annually, which is 16 percent less than the national average for public library service.
Lean fiscal times, however, challenge this efficiency on a daily basis.
Many Florida public libraries are already experiencing shorter hours of operation, staff layoffs, hiring freezes and a reduction of available materials. Additional budget cuts could result in even shorter library hours or branch closings and deeper cuts to personnel, materials and services, such as bookmobiles, outreach to senior centers and services for people with disabilities.
“Clearly, decreased funding for libraries mean cuts to essential services,” Parker noted. “Future funding cuts will only further jeopardize the ability of public libraries to serve the needs of all Floridians,” he added.