As government agencies push what have traditionally been paper-based processes and services online, public libraries are seeing more demand for access to technology so that citizens can interact with their government. But there's a catch-22: Public libraries are faced with reduced funding and shorter operating hours.

A report released this month shows that while the public is increasingly using the Internet at libraries for job and e-government resources, funding cuts at state and local levels are forcing libraries to "literally lock away access to these resources as they reduce operating hours."

Conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland, the annual study provides a "state of the library" report on technology resources libraries offer and funding that enables free access to these critical resources. The 2009-2010 Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study can be found here.

"Computers and Internet access at public libraries connect millions of Americans to economic, educational and social opportunity each year, but libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and provide the high-speed Internet connections patrons need," Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a press release. The foundation funded the study along with the ALA. "As demand for these services rise, public and private investment to support public access technology at libraries is more critical than ever."

The continual depletion of local and state tax bases -- resulting in large part from high unemployment rates (reduced income tax revenue), the troubled housing market (decreased property tax) and declines in sales tax receipts -- has seriously affected 45 states and the District of Columbia, the report says. The problem has trickled down to public library funding.

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Karen Wilkinson  | 

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.