E-government Access and Training in Public Libraries:
Community Engagement and LIS Education

 

 

Paul T. Jaeger, Ph.D., J.D.
Assistant Professor and
Director, Center for Information Policy and Electronic Government
College of Information Studies
University of Maryland

Email: pjaeger@umd.edu

 

 

Abstract
With nearly every public library in the United States now connected to the Internet and offering free access, public libraries now fill a community need of ensuring that all citizens have access to and assistance using e-government information and services (Bertot, Jaeger, Langa, & McClure, 2006a, 2006b). As such, e-government access and training are becoming a new form of community engagement for public libraries. 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, in press). Further, many federal, state, and local government agencies now direct citizens to the nearest public library for access and help in filing taxes, Medicare registrations, welfare requests, immigration documents, and numerous other essential government forms (Bertot et al, 2006a, 2006b). The vital roles that public libraries played in the aftermath of the major hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 by providing access to FEMA forms and other e-government materials essential for emergency response and recovery may have permanently cemented the public and government perception of public libraries as hubs for e-government access (Jaeger, Langa, McClure, & Bertot, in press).

 


The evolution of the public library into a trusted e-government access point, however, has occurred without the direct intention of public libraries and without the involvement of public libraries in policy decisions related to these new social roles (Jaeger & Fleischmann, in press). While the provision of Internet access alone is a major expense for public libraries, the reliance of government agencies on public libraries as the public support system for e-government adds very significant burdens to libraries. In a 2007 survey of Florida public libraries, 98.7% indicated they receive no support from an outside agency for the e-government services the library provides, despite that fact that 83.3% of responding libraries indicated that the use of e-government in the library had increased overall library usage (McClure, McGilvray, Barton, & Bertot, 2007). This lack of outside support has resulted in public libraries in different parts of the country having widely varying access to the Internet and e-government (Jaeger, Bertot, McClure, & Rodriguez, 2007).

 


As there is a clear community expectation-from both citizens and government-that libraries will provide access to and training for e-government websites, libraries must learn to use e-government as a means of community engagement. This paper will examine the data related to the provision of e-government access by public libraries in relation to community engagement and discuss different approaches employed by libraries in engaging communities through the provision of e-government, as will the policy dimensions of e-government provision and community engagement. Building on these data, approaches, and policy issues, this paper will focus on strategies for more significantly incorporating instruction and research about e-government as an aspect of librarianship into LIS education. Ultimately, the paper will suggest strategies for LIS educators in preparing students to work in an environment where e-government is a central part of public library services and community engagement.

 

 

References


Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., Langa, L. A., & McClure, C. R. (2006). Public access computing and Internet access in public libraries: The role of public libraries in e-government and emergency situations. First Monday, 11(9). Available: <http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_9/bertot/index.html>.
Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., Langa, L. A., & McClure, C. R. (2006). Drafted: I want you to deliver e-government. Library Journal, 131(13), 34-39.
Jaeger, P. T., Bertot, J. C., McClure, C. R., & Rodriguez, M. (2007). Public libraries and Internet access across the United States: A comparison by state from 2004 to 2006. Information Technology and Libraries, 26(2), 4-14.
Jaeger, P. T., & Fleischmann, K. (in press). Public libraries, values, trust, and e-government. Information Technology and Libraries.
Jaeger, P. T., Langa, L. A., McClure, C. R., & Bertot, J. C. (in press). The 2004 and 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes: Evolving roles and lessons learned for public libraries in disaster preparedness and community services. Public Library Quarterly.
McClure, C. R., McGilvray, J., Barton, K. M., & Bertot, J. C. (2007). E-government and public libraries: Current status, meeting report, findings, and next steps. Tallahassee, FL: Information Institute. <http://www.ii.fsu.edu/announcements/e-gov2006/egov_report.pdf>.