updated 9/28/2006 8:50:39 AM ET 2006-09-28T12:50:39

The nation's public libraries have significantly expanded wireless and high-speed Internet access but face budget and space constraints in continuing to meet demand, a new study finds.

Nearly all libraries have Internet access and offer it to the public, and branches average 11 public-access terminals, comparable to findings in a 2004 survey.

The new study, sponsored by the American Library Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found a doubling of wireless access, to 37 percent.  High-speed access — defined as 769 kilobits per second or faster, though that can be shared among many terminals — grew to 63 percent in the latest survey, up from 48 percent.

But John Bertot, a Florida State University professor and lead author of the report, said many libraries reported problems keeping up with patrons' demand, especially as new Web services such as video consume even more bandwidth and computer power.

Among the chief challenges, Bertot said: Libraries don't always have dedicated technologists to keep computers and software up to date.  Many say speed and the number of computers are inadequate, but they don't have the money or the space to improve.

Jill Nishi, manager of the U.S. Libraries initiative at the Gates foundation, said some libraries have started laptop checkout programs to expand access without needing more space, taking advantage of their newly acquired wireless access.

The random survey of public libraries, conducted from November 2005 to February 2006, has a margin of sampling error of up to 5 percentage points.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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