Computer Use Increases at Rural Libraries

Computer use and per-capita visitation at rural libraries climbed from 2008-2011, while urban libraries saw a drop in those measurements. A new report from the Institute for Museum and Library Services provides a first-of-its-kind glimpse of how rural patrons use their public libraries.


Institute for Museum and Library Services

The red dots represent the location of rural public libraries. These are libraries that fall outside “urbanized areas” or “urban clusters,” as defined by the U.S. Census. The study found about 4,100 such libraries, nearly half of all public libraries in the U.S.

Rural libraries are stepping in to help fill the rural broadband gap, and rural residents are responding by increased use of public-access computers at these public institutions. 

That’s one of the findings in a first-of-its kind report on the state of rural and small libraries in the United States, issued by the federal (and currently closed) Institute for Museum and Library Services.

The study also found that in urban areas, public-library computer use and per-capita visits declined during the same period.

The study examines funding, staffing and services in the nation’s 4,100 rural libraries.

From 2008 to 2011 the number of publicly accessible computers in rural libraries increased by about 20% to 49,000 computers, the report says. During the same period, use of these computers increased 6.7% to 41.3 million uses.

Meanwhile in libraries in urbanized areas, the use of publicly accessible computers decreased by 9.5%.

“Rural areas have less access to broadband services than urban areas,” the report says. “In order to mitigate this disparity in access, rural libraries have made additional efforts to increase their electronic resources.”

(We tried to contact one of the report’s author to expand on this statement but received an automatic reply that her office was closed because of the government shut-down.)

“The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States,” was written by Deanne W. Swan, Justin Grimes and Timothy Owens.