Many residents and local communities rely on public libraries for access to and training to use e-government. Many local governments direct citizens to the public library for help in using e-government, while citizens seek help from the public library in using local e-government when they have no other means of connecting or when they want help using e-government. As a result, public libraries now serve not only as instrumentalities of local government, but as a primary location for access to local e-government and a very successful link between citizens to e-government. As residents, communities, and governments rely on public libraries as a main access point to e-government, it essential to better understand the connection and education roles of public libraries to improve the delivery of local e-government.
While public libraries in the United States have long been trusted institutions within their communities, as a result of recent advances in technology and changes in society, public libraries now play a unique and critical social role by ensuring free public Internet access to community members. Nearly every public library in the United States now offers free Internet access—98.9% of public library branches are connected to the Internet and 98.4% of connected public library branches offer public Internet access (Bertot, McClure, Jaeger, & Ryan, 2006). As a result, public libraries fill a community need by ensuring that all citizens have access to and assistance in using e-government. A significant proportion of the United States population—including people who have no other means of access, people who need help using technology, and people who have lower quality access—rely on the access and trust the assistance available in public libraries to use e-government websites (Jaeger & Fleischmann, 2007). With the increasing necessity of the Internet as a means of access to government services and information, the free access provided by public libraries is an invaluable resource to local communities, residents, and local governments.
Residents are not the only ones who have come to rely on access to e-government in public libraries. Federal, state, and local government agencies now also rely on public libraries to provide citizens with access to and guidance in using e-government websites, forms, and services; many government agencies simply direct citizens to the nearest public library for help (Bertot, Jaeger, Langa, & McClure, 2006a, 2006b). Many local government agencies now direct citizens to the nearest public library for access and help in applying for permits, scheduling appointments, paying fees and taxes, and completing numerous other local government functions online. This confluence of events has created a major new social role for public libraries—guarantors of e-government access.
This chapter explores the relationships between local e-government and public libraries, a relationship made more interesting by the fact that public libraries are also local government entities. Drawing upon several different streams of data about public libraries and e-government, this chapter will explore the issues related to public libraries’ position as local government agency and local e-government access point. This chapter will explore:
The reasons that public libraries became local access points for e-government
The impacts of local political environments on the delivery of e-government in public libraries
The effect of trust placed in public libraries on local e-government usage
The ways in which public libraries impact the delivery of local e-government services
The influence of the public library on citizen interaction with e-government
While public libraries in the United States have been extremely successful in linking citizens and e-government, it essential to better understand the roles of public libraries in access to and education about local e-government in order to improve the delivery of e-government and to identify lessons from these efforts that can be translated to other nations.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Public Policy: The set of government directives intended to shape decisions and actions of individuals, organizations, and government agencies through legislation, executive orders, judicial rulings, guidelines and regulations, rulemaking, agency memos, signing statements, agency circulars, and other types of official statements.
Free Public Internet Access: The provision of access to and use of Internet-enabled computers and the ancillary technologies without any cost to all members of a community.
E-Government: The provision of government information and services via electronic means for communications, interactions, and transactions between citizens, businesses, and government agencies.
Library and Information Science: The academic field devoted to the study of issues related to libraries, also known as LIS.
Community Technology Centers: A physical location in a community designed to provide access to computers and the Internet to members of the community.
Public Library: A publicly funded institution that provides the general public in a community with access to and use of a range of print and electronic information sources.
Trust: The reliance on the integrity and/or reputation of an institution.