How and why public libraries can, should and do facilitate the use of the Internet by the homeless: a look at the programs, barriers and political climate

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Winkelstein, Julie Ann ; Cortez, Edwin-Michael (2010)
  • Subject: Public libraries | Internet access | Poor people’s library policy | Homeless | Library and information science | LIS education | M-STO/08

The use of the Internet by library patrons in public libraries has risen rapidly. Bertot et al. (2006) report that as of 2006, 98.9% of U.S. public library branches were connected to the Internet and 98.4% of these offered public Internet access. The number of homeless in the United States and other countries has also increased, with numbers ranging from an estimated 334,744 sheltered homeless on an average day in the United States to between 200,000 and 300,000 in Canada. When including the “hidden homeless” this number rises to as high as 800,000 in Great Britain. Public libraries can and do provide comfortable and safe daily environments for many of the homeless. In addition, these libraries can support and encourage the efforts of the homeless to use the Internet to find and apply for jobs, to stay connected to friends and family, to create websites and blogs, to do homework, and to do research on such topics as health and housing. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of the public library in providing Internet access to the homeless. Four research questions are posed: 1. How and why do the homeless use the Internet; 2. What are the barriers to this access; 3. How can public libraries facilitate the use of the Internet by the homeless; and, 4. How does the political climate affect the use of the Internet by the homeless.
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