New Data: More than 90% of U.S. Public Libraries Have Used E-rate

By Carlos Manjarrez, Director of Planning, Research, and Evaluation,
and Justin Grimes, Statistician, IMLS

With more than $36 billion dollars of discounts provided to date, the Universal Service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as “E-rate,” helps schools and libraries acquire Internet access and telecommunication products and services at affordable rates. Over the years, the E-rate program has provided critical support to public libraries that lack adequate infrastructure, helping them maintain their role as essential information hubs in communities across the country.

While the program has been in existence for about 15 years, it has been difficult to determine just how many libraries have participated. Currently, the data that the Universal Services Administrative Company, the nonprofit corporation designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer the E-rate program, makes available on its public data tool lists the applicants but not the awardees associated with each application. E-rate applications are often submitted on behalf of many individual libraries and school.

However, a new data-sharing partnership between IMLS and the FCC has made it possible to identify each library connected to an E-rate application. This data, which comes from the Block 4 section of the E-rate Form application, lists all schools and libraries receiving services by name and identification number. We’ve just started digging into this data and will be producing more detailed analysis in the coming months, but we wanted to share some quick stats from our initial investigation. For this blog post we focused on 11 years of program data, from FY 2002 to FY 2012. These are years for which we have complete records.

Over this 11-year time span, 15,551 libraries participated in E-rate program. This is a much larger number than most people had previously thought. As a point of comparison there were 16,536 public libraries in the most recent IMLS Public Libraries in the United States national survey (FY2012), which is a census of US libraries. But it would be wrong to assume that these 15,000+ libraries participated in the program every single year. There are a number of reasons why a library or school may participate one year and not the next. Though some libraries apply year after year, others apply only when specific telecommunications resources and services were needed. When we looked over the 11-year period, the average number of years that an individual library participated in the E-rate program was about 7.8.

To get a better sense of the size and variation in library E-rate program participation, we compared the number of libraries awarded the E-rate discount in each of the 11 years to the number of public libraries reported in the IMLS public library survey. In the chart below you can see that this proxy “participation rate” doesn’t vary that much from year to year; the annual participation rate ranged from 67 to 73 percent of all libraries. The program years with the lowest program participation occurred just before the peak period of the Great Recession, 2005-2008. Since 2008, participation in the program has edged up slightly.

Figure 1. Comparison of the Number of PLS Libraries Compared to E-rate Participation Library by program year, FY 2002-2011

histogram comparing participation rates to total number of libraries

When we look more closely at the data, digging beneath the national averages, we can see that there is a lot more variation in program participation at the state level. The map below displays the percentage of libraries that participate in the program for each state and the District of Columbia. The states with the lowest participation rate are New Hampshire (13%), South Dakota (21%), and Texas (51%). The states with the highest participation rate are Arizona, Maine, and South Carolina, all of which have participation at or above 100%.[1]

Figure 2. Comparison of E-rate Participation to Libraries Reporting in the IMLS Pubic Library Survey by State, FY 2002-2012
map displaying E-Rate participation by state

Here are some key takeaways from this quick look at library participation in the E-rate program. By examining program data over multiple years, we can see that:

Library participation in the E-rate program is very high over the life of the program, with more than 15,000 public libraries participating in the 11-year time period reviewed for this blog. More than 90 percent of the known public libraries applied for and received E-rate discounts.

With an average program participation rate of 7.8 years, we can see that most libraries stay engaged in the program over a significant period of time.

Participation rates vary widely by state, even in the middle of the country, in areas where telecommunications services are less plentiful and access more limited, suggesting that much more can be done to boost participation in states with telecommunications service needs.

This first look at the E-rate Block 4 data is great start for learning more about how the E-rate program is working for US libraries. Click here to see the number of libraries in your state (XLSX, 16KB) that participated in the program from 2002-2012. Click here to see the entire list (XLSX, 1.4MB) of 15,000+ participating libraries to see which years they participated in the E-rate program.

The next step in our analysis is to look at the services libraries are purchasing under the program and to examine how much support they are receiving in a given year or over a series of years. We will also be linking the E-rate program data with the IMLS Public Library Survey data to see how the E-rate program is affecting the character of public library services at the local level. So stay tuned.

[1] In this analysis a proxy participation rate was developed by comparing the number of unique E-rate program participants to the number of public libraries reported in the IMLS Public Library Survey. This proxy rate can exceed 100% because the thresholds for participation in the E-rate program are not identical to the threshold for inclusion in the IMLS Public Library in the United States survey.

Posted in Broadband, Research | Leave a comment

What Good is a Gig?

Ed note: This is a cross post of the ALA Washington Office District Dispatch Blog. Click here to see the original post. 

This guest blog post is by Angela Siefer, Senior Research Associate, Center for Digital Inclusion.

Through a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, we at the Center for Digital Inclusion, Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois provided continuing education forums and conducted site visits focused on libraries that either have or are about to get a gigabit Internet connection. This blog post is a preliminary peek into our research.

The Inclusive Gigabit Libraries project asks “How can libraries, as anchor institutions, leverage high speed networks and applications to benefit communities?” With a high-speed network, libraries create opportunities for 21st century learning, discovery and co-invention.

We looked specifically at libraries that are on networks that are part of US Ignite or other gigabit-speed networks. US Ignite is an initiative of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to jumpstart the development and testing of new broadband applications that serve critical public needs.

Case study libraries in this blog include Cuyahoga County Public Library (in Ohio), Chattanooga Public Library (in Tennessee), and Kansas City Public Library (in Missouri). Each is providing public access to their high-speed bandwidth and experimenting with how to meet the needs of their communities now and into the future.  We will present additional case studies of the CENIC Network in California and the VideoMosaic Project at Rutgers University in future blogs.

Cuyahoga County Public Library

Recording studio in use at the Cuyahoga County Public Library

Recording studio in use at the Cuyahoga County Public Library

All Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) branches larger than 10,000 square feet will have a full synchronous gigabit in April 2014 from AT&T via OARnet.  One branch, Warrensville Heights, currently has a full gigabit (from OneCommunity), and the other branches currently have 600Mbps. Prior to their increased bandwidth, the Internet usage at multiple branches was so high that CCPL had to manage access, including targeting ideal times for programming to take place and reducing public bandwidth access during high usage. Now, network slowdowns are a headache of the past. Most of CCPL’s 509 public access computers are in continual use, and the library is looking to its gigabit connection to reduce costs by switching its phone service to Voice over IP (VoIP). CCPL also is beginning to think of and promote access to the gigabit as a service itself.

Staff are encouraged to suggest new programming and form new partnerships. Branch directors attend city council meetings, school board meetings and Chamber of Commerce events. Matching this culture of local engagement with a hefty dose of bandwidth is bringing technology innovation aligned to community needs. New service offerings include the CCPL’s Warrensville branch recording studio where users of the booth can easily download, upload and edit video and audio files. Multiple branches offer robotics and game design programs for youth. CCPL also is experimenting with using video conferencing for informal and formal education between branches and with community partners.

“The mission of the Cuyahoga County Public Library is to be at the center of community life by providing an environment where reading, life-long learning and civic engagement thrive. That environment has to include high speed broadband and skilled staff,” said CCPL Director Sari Feldman.

Chattanooga Public Library

Maggie discovers 3D printing at the Chattanooga Public Library

Maggie discovers 3D printing at the Chattanooga Public Library

For the Chattanooga Public Library, a gigabit broadband connection is one essential tool in their efforts to create a library structure that is flexible enough to meet the library’s mission to be the community’s catalyst for lifelong learning.

Chattanooga Public Library has been called the library of the future by many (including National Journal). The designation is not solely a result of their gigabit connection but rather their culture of experimentation and innovation. Chattanooga Public Library’s 4thFloor is what Nate Hill, assistant director, refers to as a “civic laboratory, makerspace and hackerspace.” The space is home to 3D printers and a variety of tech tools deployed in ways that are always changing. It is currently being used for both library and partner-organized programming and as a co-working space. The library is experimenting with and planning use of RFID, video conferencing, sharing 3D files (which can be 20MB or more) and creating a portal for local open government data.

“(The library) is a place for people to experiment, especially when you get these young folks that are building stuff and they need a collaborative space to work and they need the speed,” said Director Corinne Hill. “I think high-speed broadband is one of these things that you don’t realize is important. It’s like the smartphone—no one knew that you couldn’t live without this until you got it. The library is going to level the playing ground for folks.”

Chattanooga’s Internet Service provider is EPB, a municipal power company. The downtown building has a gigabit connection, and the internal infrastructure on each floor is being upgraded to utilize the bandwidth. Each of the library’s three branches also will have gigabit connections in the near future.

Kansas City Public Library

As the rollout of Google Fiber continues in Kansas City, the Kansas City Public Library and the Kansas City Kansas Public Library are (eagerly) awaiting gigabit Internet connections. Google Fiber’s rollout model is based upon what they call fiberhoods. Construction occurs first to residential customers in each fiberhood that has reached a certain percentage of pre-registrations. Each city government provided Google with a list of community buildings to receive a gigabit connection free for a minimum of 10 years. All of the library branches in the two cities will receive free Internet service. Branches outside of the municipalities will not receive the gigabit connection. These Community Connections are the last to be connected in the fiberhoods.

The rollout of Google Fiber in Kansas City has drawn renewed attention to digital inclusion issues. Libraries and other community anchor institutions have increased their focus on the digital divide, resulting in increased collaborations. “In a way,” says KCPL Director Crosby Kemper, “Google Fiber has been a catalyst to do some things that we probably should have been doing anyway with traditional broadband. We, as a community, are now more aware of the digital divide. We are now more aware of the possibilities in education, distance learning and virtual learning.”

KCPL is setting the stage for when they have gigabit connections. Because Google Fiber does not have a commercial offering and is not being rolled out to every neighborhood, KCPL anticipates the need for public access (both hardline and wireless) to increase. To accommodate small business owners and entrepreneurs who might not be connected, KCPL intends to expand their small business center. They also are testing a software lending library to provide remote access to popular software.

Once available, the increased bandwidth in the library and the community will remove limitations on the use of digitized content. For example, KCPL will now be able to include more videos in local offerings, and the library is working with a local foundation and other community organizations to consider creating physical spaces for MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) students and development of local MOOCs.

The two public libraries, schools, a community college and multiple non-profits have formed a digital divide coalition to coordinate access and training services, create a cohesive plan, and draw up a strategy for fundraising.

This word cloud was created from the February 2014 interview transcripts with library leadership at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Chattanooga Public Library and Kansas City Public Library.

This word cloud was created from the February 2014 interview transcripts with library leadership at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Chattanooga Public Library and Kansas City Public Library.


This article is only a preliminary sharing of what we have learned, but one emerging theme is the opportunity for libraries to leverage next-generation networks to increase community partnerships and problem-solving. As we complete our analysis, we’ll continue to release articles, ultimately publishing full case studies this spring.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Broadband, Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | 1 Comment

Digital Sensory Storytime Helps Autistic Children

By Amy Price
Librarian, Oakstone Academy

Autism affects 1 in 88 children. As the librarian at Oakstone Academy, that is not just a statistic to me because autism affects over half of the 600 students that I serve in my school libraries. With that percentage of my patrons on the autism spectrum, I don’t just desire to find out what works, I need to find out what works and how librarians can help this population overcome their barriers to information acquisition and learning.

Children in a library playing on iPads

Thanks to LSTA grant funding, the State Library of Ohio, and the support of the Oakstone Academy students and staff, we have been able to demonstrate the effectiveness of interactive eBooks on iPads with this population. As more librarians start to embrace this ever-growing population, we’re keen to spread the word.  So what have we learned so far?

  • With a little extra effort, you can successfully reach your patrons with autism and their families through Digital Sensory Storytimes. I helped to put together a four-part video tutorial teaches how and why to develop a Digital Sensory Storytime so that you can include children with autism in your library programming. This technique meets the needs of children with sensory processing issues, like those of children with autism, and is also interesting and attractive to typically developing children. An accompanying resource guide offers tools, support, and background information about library services to children and teens with autism spectrum disorders and their families. See this addition to the Ohio Ready to Read website.
  • The iPad is an effective tool for lay people to communicate with individuals with autism. Also, large groups of iPads can be administered effectively using Apple Configurator.
  • Patrons with autism have 21-25% greater comprehension when using an interactive eBook with text, audio and full color illustrations than they do when using a traditional print book.

Want to learn more? Check out my recent publications about digital sensory and autism. Price, A. (2014, February). Autism And IPads: What We Are Learning. Teacher Librarian, 41 (3), 40-41. and Price, A. (2011, October). Making A Difference With Smart Tablets: Are IPads Really Beneficial For Students With Autism? Teacher Librarian, 39 (1), 31-34.


Head shot of Amy PriceAmy Price serves as the librarian at Oakstone Academy in central Ohio.  Oakstone Academy serves students with autism ages 12 months to 22 years and their typically developing peers.  Founded by Dr. Rebecca Morrison in 1999, the school is based on the Social and Academic Immersion Model.  This model features not only a classroom but a school-wide environment that fosters high expectations in behavior and academic achievement for all students.  Visit our website at or contact Amy Price at

Posted in Accessibility, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy) | 1 Comment