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Programs for Adults in Public Library Outlets
NCES: 2003010
November 2002

Overview

Background

Public libraries offer a variety of services to their communities, including collections, reference and referral, and programming. Depending on the type of community in which a library is located, the library may emphasize programs and other types of services for particular segments of the population (e.g., children, senior citizens, or those with limited English skills), or it may emphasize particular types of services (e.g., collections of various types or extensive reference assistance). This report provides nationally representative data on programs for adults in public library outlets. It is based on a survey conducted in fall 2000 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education, using its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). The survey— which defined "programs" as planned activities for groups or individuals that are offered by libraries to provide information, instruction, or cultural enrichment—obtained information on three areas of interest for adult programming in public library outlets:

  • adult literacy programs, including adult basic literacy skills, pre-GED, GED, family literacy, and English as a second language instruction for adults;
  • programs for adult lifelong learning, such as book or film discussions, cultural performances, recreational activities, employment and career guidance, college/continuing education guidance, financial planning/ investment information, parenting skills, citizenship preparation, and computer/Internet instruction; and
  • provision of Internet access for adult independent use.

These activities form part of the numerous services that libraries may provide their users, and the degree of emphasis that individual libraries place on these activities may be related to the role that an individual library plays in its community.

This report provides information about programs for adults that are offered by public library outlets. As defined in the FRSS survey, a public library outlet is a unit (usually a building) that provides direct public library service. An outlet may be a main or central library, a branch library, or a bookmobile. An outlet was considered to offer a program if the outlet provided funding, materials, or staff to support the program or if the library system ran the program within or on behalf of the library outlet. Programs that used library space rented from the library or made available to outside groups by the library, but with no other involvement of the library outlet or system, were not considered offerings of the library outlet. Results are presented for public library outlets overall, and by outlet size (small, medium, and large, as measured by the number of persons who entered the library outlet in a typical week, referred to in this report as the number of library visits per week) and metropolitan status (urban, suburban, and rural).

Key Findings

Adult Literacy Programs

Public libraries are one source of adult literacy programming within communities. Literacy programming includes direct literacy instruction, as well as activities such as providing funding, materials, and staff to support the program of another literacy provider. The fall 2000 FRSS survey asked public library outlets about their adult literacy program offerings during the previous 12 months. Findings from the survey include the following:

  • Adult literacy programs, including adult basic literacy skills, pre-GED, GED, family literacy, and English as a second language, were offered by 17 percent of public library outlets (figure 2).
  • The likelihood of offering adult literacy programs was related to outlet size, with 5 percent of small outlets, 19 percent of medium-sized outlets, and 31 percent of large outlets offering adult literacy programs (figure 2). Urban outlets offered literacy programs more often than outlets in rural areas (26 percent compared with 15 percent).
  • Programs in adult basic literacy skills (defined as skills at the fourth-grade level and below) were offered by 63 percent of outlets that offered adult literacy programs (Table 3). Pre- GED (defined as skills from the fifth- through the eighth-grade levels), GED (defined as skills from the ninth-grade level through high school equivalency), English as a second language, and family literacy programs were offered by 42 to 48 percent of outlets that offered adult literacy programs.
  • About half of the outlets offering adult literacy programs offered such programs specifically for adults who were limited English speaking and/or recent immigrants (50 percent) or for parents (48 percent) (Table 4). Adult literacy programs specifically for high school dropouts were offered by 40 percent of outlets offering adult literacy programs. About a quarter (26 percent) of outlets with adult literacy programs offered programs specifically for adults with learning disabilities, and 11 percent offered programs specifically for adults with hearing impairments.
  • Outlets that did not offer adult literacy programs during the 12 months prior to the survey were asked to indicate how important various reasons were in the outlet's decision not to offer such programs. Not having the staff or resources to offer adult literacy programs was indicated as very important in the outlet's decision by 77 percent of outlets (Table 5). About half of the outlets (53 percent) indicated that the presence of other groups or educational institutions in the community (including other library outlets) that offer adult literacy programs was very important in their decision not to offer such programs. An emphasis on other groups (e.g., children, senior citizens) in the outlet's programming was indicated as very important by 37 percent of outlets. The reason least often indicated as very important in the outlet's decision not to offer adult literacy programs was that the community served by the outlet does not have a strong need for adult literacy programs (20 percent); almost half of the outlets (48 percent) indicated that this reason was not important in their decision.

Lifelong Learning Programs

Lifelong learning services for adults encompass many kinds of activities and programs to meet the cultural, recreational, and educational needs of the adults served by library outlets. The fall 2000 FRSS survey asked public library outlets whether they offered nine types of adult lifelong learning programs during the 12 months prior to the survey, whether any lifelong learning programs were offered specifically for 5 listed groups of adults, and to what extent various factors were barriers to providing lifelong learning programs for adults with learning and/or physical disabilities. Results of the survey include the following:

  • Computer/Internet instruction, offered by 56 percent of all public library outlets, was the most frequently offered type of adult lifelong learning program (Table 7). Forty-three percent of outlets offered book/film discussions or presentations, 41 percent offered cultural performances, and 39 percent offered recreational activities, such as crafts, travel, or hobbies. Programs on parenting skills were offered by 20 percent of outlets, financial planning/investment information programs by 18 percent of outlets, employment/career guidance programs by 17 percent of outlets, and college/continuing education guidance programs by 15 percent of outlets. Programs for citizenship preparation were offered by 5 percent of outlets.
  • Large and medium-sized outlets were more likely than small outlets to offer all the types of adult lifelong learning programs except citizenship preparation programs, which did not vary significantly by outlet size (Table 7). Large outlets were also more likely than medium-sized outlets to offer most of the programs, with the exception of programs on employment/career guidance and college/ continuing education guidance. Urban outlets were more likely than rural outlets to offer all the types of lifelong learning programs except citizenship preparation and college/continuing education guidance programs.
  • About a quarter of all outlets offered adult lifelong learning programs specifically for senior citizens or for parents (24 percent for each) (Table 8). Programs specifically for adults who are limited English speaking and/or recent immigrants were offered by 9 percent of outlets, for adults with physical disabilities by 6 percent of outlets, and for adults with learning disabilities by 5 percent of outlets.
  • All library outlets were asked to what extent certain factors were barriers to the outlet's offering lifelong learning programs for adults with learning and/or physical disabilities. Insufficient accessibility to library facilities for the disabled was not perceived to be a barrier to offering such programs by most libraries, with 70 percent of outlets indicating it was not a barrier (Table 9). Insufficient accessibility was perceived to be a major barrier by 12 percent of outlets. The remaining factors (lack of staff training in working with adults with disabilities, lack of assistive/adaptive devices for adults with disabilities, and insufficient library materials for the blind or physically disabled) were rated as not a barrier by 17 to 24 percent of outlets and as a major barrier by 33 to 39 percent of outlets.

Internet Access

The Internet is a major tool for communication and for education and job-related tasks. Public libraries are one of the providers of Internet access to the public. The fall 2000 FRSS survey asked public library outlets whether they provided Internet access to adults for their independent use, and to what extent various factors were barriers to providing such access. Findings include the following:

  • Most public library outlets (92 percent) reported providing Internet access to adults for their independent use (figure 3). Small outlets were less likely to provide Internet access than were medium-sized or large outlets (84 percent compared with 96 and 98 percent, respectively). No differences were observed by metropolitan status.
  • All library outlets were asked to what extent various factors (insufficient space for computers, insufficient number of computers with Internet access, insufficient number of telecommunications lines for Internet access, lack of library staff to assist Internet users, and lack of specialized training among library staff) were barriers to providing Internet access to adults for their independent use. Across all public library outlets, these factors were generally not perceived as being major barriers to providing Internet access; the percentage of outlets rating each factor as a major barrier ranged from 9 percent for lack of specialized training among library staff to 29 percent for insufficient space for computers (Table 11).
  • There were differences in perceived barriers between the library outlets that provided Internet access and those that did not. All of the factors were more likely to be identified as major barriers by outlets that did not provide Internet access than by outlets that did provide Internet access (Table 11).

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