By Ben Kaufman
The Danville News
Starting Saturday, 40 public libraries in 11 counties will participate in a survey throughout February to determine whether their patrons’ use of public computers is making a positive impact on their lives.
The impact survey is an initiative coordinated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Washington Information School, which teamed up for a study five years ago. The 2009 survey observed how American citizens benefit from Internet access in public libraries across the country, and it concluded access to the Internet at public libraries is beneficial for the community.
“The survey is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the analysis of results will be done at the University of Washington,” Roberta Greene, director of the Public Library for Union County, Lewisburg, said.
According to Greene and Bonnie White, director of the Thomas Beaver Free Library in Danville, the survey will be useful for figuring out what public libraries are doing right and what they need to change in terms of their patrons’ public Internet usage.
“Right now, we have five public computers, which are used almost constantly when they’re open,” White said.
Green said: “We have 12 public computers at this location, four public computers at the Herr library in Mifflinburg and four computers at the West End Library in Laurelton, all of which are pretty much in constant use. Eighty percent of the computers are in use at any given time during the day.”
Their major concern is that people are not using the resources public libraries offer, and according to White and Greene, this survey will be beneficial to them to learn whether they are helping people with their public computers. With that, they want to ensure that people are benefiting from having Internet access in public libraries.
“We want to know how we can improve things and better spend the limited amount of funds we have to better serve the community,” White said.
Greene added, “The survey is anonymous and will tell us how (the community) is using our technology and how that is impacting their life.”
The computers are a valuable tool for residents who don’t have access at home.
“I have my own computer, but I come to the library for Internet access,” said Jessica Urbanavage, of Sunbury. “I use it to search for jobs and email. I don’t really have any other place to access the Internet other than the library and it’s quiet here.”
As of Saturday, the survey can be found online at any Valley library’s website or on paper at any of the 40 public libraries in the 11 counties. The survey will be provided in English and Spanish and can be found at impactsurvey.org.