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Indicator V-9 Internet Access at Public Libraries
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated (6/27/2013) with data for 2006–2010.

See the
Note on Per Capita Library Statistics.

In addition to their other roles, public libraries play a vital part in providing Internet access to members of their communities. From 2000 to 2010, the number of computers available to public library users for accessing the Internet and the ratio of such computers to population more than doubled (Figure V-9a). In 2010, the ratio was 4.1 computers per 5,000 people, or a total of 245,908 computers.1

Figure V-9a, Full Size
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Figure V-9b displays for each state (and the District of Columbia) the number of Internet computers made available by public libraries per 5,000 population in FY 2010. States are classified by quintile. (Quintiles divide a set of values ranked in ascending order into five equal groups, each constituting one-fifth of the values. In this case, the first quintile includes the 20% of states with the lowest number of computers available for Internet use at public libraries, while the fifth quintile encompasses the 20% of states with the highest number). As with circulation levels, considerable variation existed among states with respect to the ratio of computers to population. Vermont had the most computers per 5,000 people (8.7), while Hawaii had the fewest (1.1). Only two states—Hawaii and South Dakota—reported a decline in the ratio of Internet computers to population from 2005 to 2010. At the national level, the ratio increased 28%, from 3.2 to 4.1 computers per 5,000 people, over the same time span.

Figure V-9b, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

The Southeast region (as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis), had relatively low ratios of Internet computers to population, although Alabama and Louisiana were exceptions. In contrast, the New England region, with the exception of Massachusetts, had comparatively high levels of access. With respect to the ratio of computers to population, there was also some tight clustering of neighboring states with no clear regional identity. California and its eastern neighbors all had ratios in the lowest quintile, while Nebraska and several of its contiguous neighbors had ratios in the highest quintile.

Although state statistics provide a sense of the distribution of public library Internet access throughout the United States, they do not shed light on the often sizable differences in the level of access within states—differences that arise from the fact that public libraries are, for the most part, locally funded (see Indicator V-10, Public Library Revenue, Expenditures, and Funding Sources).


1 Libraries offer a wide array of online support, training, and other services. For a useful summary of these offerings, see American Library Association, “Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, 2010–2011,” American Libraries, Summer 2011,

Note on Per Capita Library Statistics

All of the per capita statistics in this section of the Indicators are based on the total unduplicated population of libraries’ legal service areas. A library’s legal service area is the geographical area that by state or local statute a library is mandated to serve. “Unduplicated” refers to the fact that the population figures have been adjusted to compensate for overlapping service areas. To simply add the populations of all service areas would be to double count those people residing in areas served by more than one library.

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