Libraries’ ability to provide public access to the Internet accounts for much of the change in the way people use these institutions. In the 12-month period studied for the IMLS-funded Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access (PDF) at U.S. Libraries, 77 million Americans aged 14 and older took advantage of Internet access in a public library. That number represents 46 percent of all library visitors during that same period and 32 percent of all Americans over the age of 14.
The ways in which these library visitors use the Internet is illustrative of how vital a public service this has become. The data collected for Opportunity for All show that 42 percent of those using library computers for Internet access used it to advance educational goals; 40 percent had career or employment purposes, with three-quarters of those specifically seeking a job; 37 percent were focused on health and wellness; and 34 percent used the library’s Internet connection to link to government officials, programs, and services. These are not leisurely activities that one may choose to pursue or not pursue; they are central to life and well-being.