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Internet Access

June 12, 2000

Maybe you’ve heard about the library’s improved Internet access, maybe not. Maybe you don’t care. To tell the truth, most people don’t.

This level of interest seems to hold true at other public libraries, as well.

At the end of last millennium, some public library directors had a discussion about the percent of library users that used library internet access. Englewood Public Library can measure usage with certainty, because the city bought a $108,000 Smart Card system in an attempt to prevent the unsuspecting and the underage from accessing unsavory things on the Internet. Users must register to receive a Smart Card with a level of access chosen by them (if adult) or their parents.

At the end of last year, only 10% of Englewood library card holders had registered to use the Internet. Most chose, or had chosen for them, unrestricted access. The question arose: Was the Smart Card registration system onerous? Some directors thought the number sounded low, and so perhaps the act of registering was putting users off.

Douglas County Public Library re-examined their usage surveys from last year: Internet use came in at six percent … and they have no onerous registration system.

I thought the percentages sounded about right. Of course, in the past, Internet usage at the Salida Regional Library was self-limiting. We had two PCs in use all the time. Once the library offered high-speed access on nine workstations, we could get a better sense of the demand.

To date, the library has about 2900 patrons registered (since December 8, 1999). If ten percent have used the Internet — 290 different people in the last six months — I’d be surprised. This might be so if we count visitor use. I’m certain it’s not 20%, or 580 different people. We have many daily users. Much of that use is e-mail, as well as the forbidden chat and game rooms. But certainly not all of it. I continue to be encouraged by the amount of “legitimate” use. By that I mean people looking for information, knowledge, and wisdom, in subjects of current or abiding interest to them.

Patron attitudes toward the Internet vary, of course. Usually, the younger users expect more from the Internet than they can consistently get. Many are uncritical of the information they find. Older users new to the Internet are often frustrated by the busyness of the whole thing. Every screen is like Times Square flashing at you. They are also disappointed at the lack of good, indexed information. In other words, they expect the Internet to be more like the library information they’ve used in the past, and it’s just not there yet.

It’s getting better all the time. And high quality, searchable databases with full text do exist. They cost money. The library buys access to some databases, including several magazine and journal indexes with full text. More on those next time.

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