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SFPL Computer Usage Survey

Job Searches, Homework Help and Social Networking Top Uses of San Francisco Public Library’s Computers and Wi Fi Network

San Francisco Public Library participates in national U.S. Impact Study examining free access to computers and Internet in public libraries

A national survey on computer and Internet usage at public libraries estimated that 203,702 people used San Francisco Public Library’s free public access technology resources in the past year. While it’s long been evident that the Library’s public computers and Internet access are very popular among library visitors, this study confirmed just how important these resources are to the community for accessing information on employment, education, civic engagement and entertainment.

The U.S. IMPACT web survey, conducted by the University of Washington Information School with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, queried 1,746 San Francisco Public Library patrons over a two-week period in June 2009.

Not surprisingly in the midst of a recession, the library plays a vital role for job seekers: 23 percent of the SFPL respondents reporting using the library computers and/or Internet access to find online job postings, write cover letters and resumes, and research careers. Of the users who searched for job opportunities online at the Library, 30 percent were granted an interview and 15 percent, or 24 individuals, reported actually being hired for a new position.

Education and learning were also among the top uses of public access computing for SFPL patrons, according to 24 percent of the survey respondents. Of the educational users, 63 percent of the youth surveyed said they used the Library’s computers or Internet for homework help while 9 percent of the adults used them to learn about degree and certificate programs.

SFPL also provides an important function in allowing citizens to engage with their community online for political causes and candidates, and with clubs and nonprofit organizations. Of the 196 users (22 percent) who reported they had used the Library’s technology resources for civic engagement, the most frequently reported uses were to learn about social causes and politics and to keep up with news events, particularly international or hometown news.

San Francisco’s patrons also are using the public access technology to keep in touch with family and friends, with 32 percent of survey respondents using the resources for social purposes. The most common usage, at 26 percent, was to communicate with family and friends online; respondents reported that 43 percent of these online contacts lived outside the U.S. Fourteen percent used the Library’s resources on social networking sites.

Health care was another popular topic of information for the computer users at SFPL, responsible for 20 percent of respondents looking for information for themselves and 9 percent to help someone else. Looking deeper, 17 percent were seeking information about an illness, disease or medical condition and 12 percent wanted to learn about diet or nutrition. Of note, for those that learned about diet and nutrition, 78 percent reported that the information they found helped them make a change to their diets.

On a national basis, the study found that 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 in the past year.

The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives.