E-Government Education in Public Libraries: New Service Roles and Expanding Social Responsibilities

Article excerpt

The provision of e-government in public libraries has created significant new responsibilities and expectations for libraries. Drawing from a range of data collection sources, this article explores the efforts in and issues raised by public libraries providing e-government education to patrons. To date, this area lacks sufficient attention, yet e-government education requires librarians to help patrons navigate major life issues and to have knowledge about information, technology, and government structure. As a result, e-government education is an important new service role of public libraries. This article examines the efforts of and issues faced by public libraries, as well as professional, educational, and research endeavors that could help libraries better meet this important new service role.

Keywords: Public libraries, e-government, social roles, library education, LIS education, mixed methods.

Introduction: Public Libraries and E-government

E-government is the provision of government information and services through the online environment, including such diverse interactions as applying for Medicare prescription drug plans to paying taxes to emailing a public official. E-government can occur over multiple devices, such as computers, personal digital assistants (PDA), smart phones, and other mobile devices. A new but extremely important social role for public libraries is ensuring that all citizens have access to and assistance using e-government information and services (Bertot, Jaeger, Langa, & McClure, 2006a, 2006b). The intersection between public libraries and e-government has many significant implications and impacts for library management, expectations for libraries, and the activities of librarians, among many other implications.

Nearly half of the residents of the United States do not have access to broadband services on which e-government services rely (Horrigan, 2008). Beyond access to basic infrastructure necessary for successful e-government interactions, 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-relies on the access and trusts the assistance available in public libraries to use e-government. The vital roles that public libraries played in the aftermath of the major hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 by providing access to Federal Emergency Management Agency (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, 2006).

This relationship between public libraries and e-government is beginning to receive scholarly and professional attention, as it raises increasingly significant issues for libraries. For example, the provision of e-government access:

* Contributes to the plateau in the quality of Internet access that libraries are able to provide (McClure, Jaeger, & Bertot, 2007);

* Redefines the notion of quality public access technology services in the public library context (Bertot & McClure, 2007);

* Encourages governments to rely on libraries as the public provider of e-government access and assistance (Bertot, et al., 2006a, 2006b);

* Places libraries in the position of ensuring access to government information during emergency situations (Jaeger, et al., 2006);

* Creates new social expectations for libraries from patrons and communities (Jaeger & Fleischmann, 2007; McClure & Jaeger, 2008a);

* Reveals new educational challenges for the education of future librarians by Library and Information Science (LIS) programs (Jaeger, 2008);

* Alters relationships between libraries and other agencies of local government (Jaeger, in press); and

* Raises many new issues in research about public libraries (McClure & Jaeger, 2008b). …