Part II: Commission Findings and Recommended Strategies
Communities Need Strong Information Intermediaries The problem of information access is not a problem of volume. People are frequently awash in information, but they are desperate for trusted assistance to help make sense of the information they have. Everyone depends to some extent on intermediaries to help acquire, verify, select, and make sense of information. The range and quality of intermediaries will always be central to a healthy information ecology. This is true for both civic and life-enhancing information. Libraries are vital actors on this stage. There are 9,198 public libraries in the United States, with over 16,500 outlets. Americans use them. Visits to public libraries totaled 1.4 billion in 2005. The circulation of materials topped two billion items.18 Over 68 percent of American adults today have a library card. This is the highest number since the American Library Association began tracking this statistic in 1990. Over three-quarters of all Americans used public libraries in the year leading up to a September 2009 survey.19 Young adults between 18 and 30 are the most likely to use libraries and the most likely to say they will use libraries in the future.20 Moreover, public libraries increasingly emphasize civic and media training and serve as key centers for community dialogue. Yet, public libraries are typically strapped for resources. A 2006 study by the ALA showed that many libraries sustained deep cuts in fiscal years 2003, 2004, and 2005.21 As tax revenues dwindle, many libraries are having to cut hours and programs just when they are most needed. Higher education institutions are also key information intermediaries. They have become increasingly important as sources of expertise and talent for social and economic development. This is dramatically evident in the evolution of land grant university extension services. No longer does â€œextensionâ€? signify a lonely agent driving an aging station wagon out to share crop information with area farmers. Many extension programs offer consulting services for small towns and rural areas doing strategic planning for economic growth and environmental sustainability. They sponsor public health programming and financial counseling. They publish online agricultural newsletters. These and similar programs are evident across the full range of higher education. From the largest research universities to Americaâ€™s more than a thousand community colleges, the best of the higher education sector is translating faculty teaching and research into practical resources for individuals and communities.
The Report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy