Why Connection Matters: Community
by Mary O. Fumento
“No other civilization, ever, has had anything comparable to our [U.S.] public library system.” – Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough
Welcome to National Library Week, which begins April 11 through April 17. We will celebrate it with the theme: "Communities thrive @ your library" for indeed they do. Washakie County gains from our public library system, a coordinated effort between Ten Sleep and Worland, in many ways.
As Sari Feldman, President of the Public Library Association put it, “Public libraries are a unique network of service providers that exist to ensure that all citizens have free access to information and materials that are crucial to daily life.”
Service to the public is the main objective of the Washakie County Library System, and we fulfill this role in many ways: books; music; movies; meeting places; research; and events. One of our newest and most desired services is free computer and Internet access, as we connect people to the resources they want and need.
Nationally, public library computer use has exploded in recent years. In Wyoming over the last nine years, the number of public-use, Internet-accessible computers increased more than 350 percent. In the last three years, Wyoming public library computers have been used an average of nearly one million times a year. When Wyoming libraries responded to the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study last year, more than half reported that their library was the only source of free Internet access in their community, while less than half reported that they had enough workstations to meet patron needs at all times.
So does computer connection really matter?
A recent study by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) indicates that library computers improve lives in employment, education, health, access to government information and connections to others.
According to the report, nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet last year. Of those users, 30 million people addressed career and employment needs, 32.5 million people furthered their education and training, and 28 million people accessed health and wellness information.
Library computers help bridge the digital divide: 44 percent of people living below the federal poverty line used computers and the Internet at public libraries. Of those, two out of five people reported that the public library was their only source of access to these resources.
In a study in January 2009 by KRC Research, households reported a doubling of use of the public library by computer from home, work or school from 2006 to 2009. What are these people accessing? People want information, and libraries are providing it.
From 1999 to 2008, the 50 state library agencies more than doubled their expenditures (in constant 2008 dollars) on statewide licensed databases, according to another recent report. In 2008, the expenditures on statewide licensed databases reached $65.8 million. All 50 state libraries bought access for their public libraries, while 42 purchased licenses for school library media centers.
In Wyoming, all types of libraries and all state residents have access to the Wyoming Libraries' Database (WYLD). In fiscal year 2009, there were 40 state-licensed databases purchased through the Wyoming State Library and the University of Wyoming. You can access these at http://gowyld.net/all.cfm
Please celebrate National Library Week by using the Washakie County Library System whether in person or by using one of our many databases. The Friends of the Ten Sleep library will be holding an annual book sale all week at the Ten Sleep library. In Worland, join James Mims and the book discussion group at 7 p.m. on April 12 or Raising Readers at 5:30 p.m. on April 13. The Washakie County Library Foundation invites you to join the monthly meeting at noon on April 15. The Friends of the Worland library will host an open house with refreshment on April 17 from 10 a.m. to noon.
However you thrive, let the library be a part of it!