As part of a quantitative inquiry into the communication ecosystem of the rural communities where libraries participated in hotspot lending, a survey instrument was created and sent to a universal sample of registered voters in the state of Kansas in the towns of Grainfield, Quinter, Jetmore, and Goodland. The Kansas voter sample was purchased from the Kansas Secretary of State and wads available at the County level. The Maine registered voter sample was purchased from the city of Calais and was sent to a universal sample of registered voters in Calais, Maine. Populations are quite similar across the cities participating in the hotspot pilots, so sampling sites were chosen in the counties with the highest proportion of registered voters and then by geographical distance from the other participating library sites.
The questions in the survey include several items concerning connectivity, social capital, and perceptions of the library’s role in communities. The survey replicates several items from a 2018 nationally representative survey assessing public support for funding libraries conducted by Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and the American Library Association (ALA) (OCLC, 2018).
The survey response rate was 13.3%, with a total n=939, an acceptable response rate for mailed surveys.
The team undertook multiple methods to encourage public awareness of the survey, and cooperation from library staff was integral in helping the team connect with efficient communication channels in print, radio, television, and electronic forms. Print advertisements and newspaper articles preceded the distribution of the survey by one or two weeks and advised that residents should be on the “look out” for a survey coming from the University of Texas. Advertisements were run in local newspapers in communities large enough to be served by a paper. The Jetmore Republican (serving Hodgeman County in Southwestern Kansas), the Gove County advocate in Central Kansas (serving the communities of Gove, Grainfield, and Quinter), the Goodland Star-News (Northwestern Kansas), and the Calais Advertiser (Washington County, Maine). In addition, the Calais Advertiser and the Jetmore Republican ran human interest stories in the paper on the topics of digital inclusion, the library, and the mailed survey that would be appearing in residents’ mailboxes.
- Respondents are majority female (61.9%) and less than 40 percent of respondents are male (38.1%). Respondents to the survey are older, more female, and have slightly higher incomes and educational levels than populations from the sampled counties
- Most respondents tend not to be weekly library visitors, with 21.6% of survey respondents answering they go into the library a few times a month, and 45.4% answering they go into their local library a few times a year. Despite the fact that many in the sample visit the library at least a few times a month, fewer answer that they utilize the electronic resources in and outside the library
- Even though the majority of the sample only visits the library a few times a year, and many do not visit the library at all, survey respondents feel very strongly about the value of the library for their community. When asked to imagine that the public library in their town closed, and to rate that effect that the closure would have for the community on a 10-point scale, the mean score between no effect (1) and a great loss (10) is an 8.78.
- Newspapers are important to survey respondents for news about their community (73.9%), local or regional events (69.3%), and local businesses, as well as finding employment (43.6%). It would seem that newspapers, as well as face-to-face conversation, are the most important sources for people responding to the survey to remain engaged with the local economy and their own community. Face-to-face conversation was most important for community news (58.4%). The library also contributes to people’s local information needs but is utilized the most with regard to finding things for children to do (24.4%)
- The population responding to the survey access multiple topics through online resources, but people answer they search the web the most for health topics (66.3%). People also answer they utilize web search the most for news about the United States (49.5%). Facebook also seems to be an important source for news about the community (49.3%), but is used the least to find employment (14.3%)
- Most people in the sample are retired (29.4%) but the second most popular form of employment category is agriculture (13%). Despite the fact that the question matrix asked people to only choose one form of employment, many people added other fields of employment to their answers on returned paper surveys. In fact, a sizable proportion of the sample answered they work more than one job to make ends meet (20%)
- Parents answer that for the most part, schools use electronic communication more than traditional paper materials (76.8%). Also, 46.2 percent of parents answer that electronic homework is assigned as opposed to paper homework materials. Over half the sample answers their school provides children with computing technology for home use (53.1%)
- Around 30 percent (305) of the respondents knew about the hotspot lending program and that 12 percent (109) of the respondents checked out hotspot devices for mobile Internet use. While 11 percent of our sample checked out the devices, many did so infrequently. It is important to note that there were a small number of devices available for check out at each library and resulted in waiting lists for the Hotspots