Toward Equality of Access
The Role of Public Libraries
in Addressing the Digital Divide
This report has been sponsored by the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and
developed in partnership with:
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
BEAUMONT FOUNDATION OF AMERICA
INSTITUTE OF MUSEUM AND
ON CIVIL RIGHTS
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES
U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Pew Internet & American Life Project
has served as research advisor.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
Ninety-five percent of public libraries in the United States
offer free access to computers and the Internet, often
providing the only Internet access for residents of the
nation’s poorest areas. This report evaluates the
importance of these library-based computers in addressing
the digital divide.
Drawing from government statistics and independent
research, the report finds widespread acceptance of
library-based computer and Internet access from patrons
and librarians. But more importantly, the report finds that
public access computing is benefiting those socioeconomic
groups with the greatest need.
However, the report also notes urgent—but manageable—
challenges facing libraries as they seek to maintain and
further develop their role in providing access to digital
information. This valued public service can only be
sustained by the continued support of policymakers,
librarians, and community advocates.
he term “digital divide” has been used since the 1990s to describe patterns of
unequal access to information technology—primarily computers and the Internet—
based on income, ethnicity, geography, age, and other factors. Over time it has
evolved to more broadly define disparities in technology usage, resulting from a lack
of access, skills, or interest in using technology.
Nearly a decade after the phrase was coined, Internet use has increased
substantially among all socioeconomic groups. But despite these gains, recent
government data show that significant gaps remain between so-called “haves” and