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Monday, June 8, 2009

When We Say 'Public Library' and 'Internet' What Do You Think Of? Study Aims to Find Out.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:30 AM

Habitual users of the Internet in San Francisco's Public Library -- here's your chance to be heard! (other than the persistent muttering and shouting some people seem to engage in).

Patrons of our library system are invited to participate in a nationwide survey of public library Internet users to determine how, exactly, we're tapping the library's bandwidth. The University of Washington-devised study appears to have the wild idea that library Internet use consists of something more than updates to social networking Web sites, games that involve elves fighting one other, or porn, porn, porn. Some folks, it seems, actually get work done or look for jobs.

We took the survey -- which you can find here. Here's how it went:

  • The first portion of the survey queries about the frequency in which one uses library Internet (since City Hall only just put in WiFi -- on an experimental basis -- your humble narrator finds himself in this situation a lot). God bless our nation's libraries, but you can really see where these questions are going: One of them queried if we'd used library Internet to do work for other people, including our parents or even random strangers (the term "Good Samaritan" was used). Does it make us selfish that we've never used library Internet to help anyone else (other than our visits to The Hunger Site)?
  • The second portion of the survey begins to tease out why folks use the Internet in the library. We'll see if they even give people the opportunity to admit to viewing porn -- which wouldn't go over so well when making the point that these services are vital and need to be financially reinforced. Reading between the lines, this survey will almost certainly be used to make a statement along the lines of "X percentage of the respondents can only access the Internet via the library, and Y percent of them do their job-hunting, banking, and research there."
  • Actual question: "Did you use the public library computer or Internet connection in the past 12 months to make a donation to a political candidate or cause?" Clever.
  • You can tell who the survey-takers feel are using library computers when the question about income brackets tops off at "$32,000 a year or more."
  • Anyone viewing porn or doing other gratuitously time-wasting Internet activities in a library is going to have to go out of his way to admit it, and write it in via the "other" category. Good chance of that happening.
So, it's a fair guess that this survey will find that library Internet services are a vital component of life for an underserved population. Fair enough. The way things are going, many more of us may be finding Internet refuge -- and muttering -- in the library, and soon.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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