According to 1997 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 7.4 million Americans in 30 states live beyond the legal service area of any public library—a population roughly equivalent to that of the Chicago metropolitan area. (By comparison, in 1996, 24 states reported a total of less than 7 million “unserved” residents.) These individuals are considered “unserved,” as there is no public library responsible for meeting their needs for reading matter, information, and Internet access. The possible reasons for this situation were first described in FAST FACTS no. 145 (September 1, 1998), Almost 7 Million Americans “Unserved” by Public Libraries.
The 1996-1997 increase of 490,063 can be attributed largely to improved reporting. This 7.1 percent increase is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the Charleston, South Carolina; Worcester, Massachusetts; or Napa, California, metropolitan area.
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