The traditional role of public libraries as depositories of printed material is transforming to meet the digital age, according to a study by the Chicago-based American Library Association (ALA). They are becoming hotspots of Web access and technological job training for residents.

ALA's “Libraries Connect Communities 3: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008-2009,” released in September, found that more than 71 percent of all libraries (and 79 percent of rural libraries) report they are the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Sixty-six percent of public libraries rank job-seeking services, including resume writing and Internet job searches, among the most crucial online services they offer — up from 44 percent two years ago, according to the survey. “Libraries are part of the solution for Americans struggling to regain their footing in uncertain economic times,” said ALA President Camila Alire in a statement. “Most jobs, and many government services, require that people fill out online applications at a time when many people lack home Internet access and the necessary online search, software or even basic keyboard skills.”

To help residents make the best use of free computer resources, many libraries are offering computer-training classes. Two years ago, Davidson County, N.C., workforce development agency DavidsonWorks Executive Director Nancy Borrell began organizing classes at the county libraries to expand its reach. “In Davidson County, we have predominantly rural areas … small towns [from which] people have a hard time commuting,” Borrell says. “The library was a natural partner because they already have the facilities, they have the computers, [and] they have staff that can assist [DavidsonWorks staff.]”

In the new program, which was fully implemented this summer, DavidsonWorks, a non-profit that receives some funding through the county, now offers its training on basic computer literacy, and workshops on resumes, application writing and interviewing techniques at the county's five libraries. “Now we'll be able to serve the community where they live,” Borrell says.

“Libraries Connect Communities 3” is available at

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  • More than 90 percent of public libraries provide technology training, such as online job-seeking and career-related classes.

  • 76 percent of public libraries offer free wireless Internet access.

  • 81 percent of public libraries report there are not enough public Internet computers to meet patron demand some or all of the time.

Source: American Library Association, "Libraries Connect Communities 3: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008-2009," Sept. 25, 2009