Louisiana is unique in that it has offered dedicated (non-dial-up) Internet access at every public library facility since 1998.
In FY05-06, in partnership with the public libraries, the State Library installed broadband Internet to every public library headquarters, upgrading speeds when needed. This partnership allowed public libraries to upgrade the connectivity at their branches as necessary. This was the first major upgrade since the initial installation.
The State Library made another major upgrade in FY07-08 because of increased bandwidth requirements. All main libraries of the parish library systems have a connection of at least 3 Mbps, and all municipal libraries have at least a 1.5 Mbps connection.
In 2008, the public used the 7,700 free Internet workstations in Louisiana’s public libraries almost 6.5 million times. Libraries want to continue to be able to offer a range of services to their patrons, and the general consensus among Louisiana libraries is that they do not want technology to limit what they can offer to their users.
The overall benefit of offering Internet access at public libraries is that it narrows the “digital divide” between those who have ready access to and know how to use technology and those who do not. Only 60.5% of Louisianans have broadband Internet at home. 19% have no connection anywhere.
For these “have-nots”, free Internet access at the public library is their only means of accessing online research, school work, government services, email and entertainment. The State Library is moving very quickly into the realm of e-business and e-government. Those citizens found on the wrong side of the digital divide may miss out on basic government services. Public library Internet access is often the only way these citizens can obtain needed services.