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Measuring Library Broadband Networks to Address Knowledge Gaps and Data Caps

  • Digital Equity Research Center
  • Simmons University


In this paper, we present findings from a three-year research project that examined how advanced broadband measurement capabilities can support the infrastructure and services needed to respond to the digital demands of public library users across the U.S. Previous studies have identified the ongoing broadband challenges of public libraries while also highlighting the increasing digital expectations of their patrons. However, few large scale research efforts have collected automated, longitudinal measurement data on library broadband speeds and quality of service at a local, granular level inside public libraries over time (including when buildings are closed). This research seeks to address this gap in the literature through the following research question: How can public libraries utilize broadband measurement tools and training materials to develop a better understanding of the relationship between library network infrastructure and digital services? In response, qualitative data were gathered through interviews with public librarians, IT network administrators, focus groups with patrons, and field site observations at 10 public libraries across the U.S. during the first year of the research. Additional interviews with public librarians and IT administrators were conducted during a UX design process, which helped to inform the development of an open source, broadband measurement system with and for public libraries during year two of the research. Quantitative measurement data using this system, which was deployed at 30 public libraries across the U.S., were then collected for our study. Findings from our analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data reveal gaps in understanding between the perceptions of public librarians regarding their library broadband capacity and the actual performance of their broadband networks. While our study participants reported a need for broadband measurement data in their public libraries to justify infrastructure upgrades and improve communication with patrons, our results confirm that having access to data would also address knowledge gaps regarding the actual public library broadband usage and capacity needed to serve their communities digital demands. These findings have implications for state library agencies and federal policymakers interested in having access to data on observed versus advertised speeds and quality of service of public library broadband connections nationwide.
Colin Rhinesmith, Chris Ritzo, Jie Jiang, Malana Krongelb, Caroline
Cocossa, Peter Dutilloy, and Susan Kennedy
TPRC 49 - September 23, 2021
Measuring Library Broadband Networks to
Address Knowledge Gaps and Data Caps
Project Overview
Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program
$568,672 two-year research grant (#LG-250043-OLS-21)
Project goal: To develop an open source broadband
measurement system with and for U.S. public libraries.
Open data:
Research Goals
Understand the broadband speeds and quality of service
that public libraries receive;
Assess how well broadband service and infrastructure are
supporting their communities' digital needs;
Determine broadband network usage and capacity; and
Increase knowledge of networked services and connectivity
needs in public libraries.
Measurement Data
Developed Murakami software program that runs
automated measurements from a computer attached to
a network.
Murakami Resources & Info:
Blog Post:
Measurement Device
Mapping library location
and Ookla test servers
Comparison of Library
measurements to Ookla
public aggregate data for
the surrounding county.
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Additional Findings
Two optional questions service tiers & per-device limits
#1: Libraries’ overall Internet service plan speeds
#2: Per-device limits imposed by network mgt. controls
Were responses consistent with max measured speeds?
8 total responses to one or both questions
7 responses to #1; 5 consistent with max measurements
2 responses to #2; 1 consistent with max measurements
Discussion/Next Steps
Why mismatches between reported and measured speeds?
All measurements limited to per-device speeds.
Overall speeds answer for multi-branch system instead of single branch.
Reported per-device applied to WiFi, but all measurements were via
egress or wired.
Scholarly contribution/policy implications
Broadband is infrastructure. This invisibility creates knowledge gaps.
State libraries need access to broadband data for funding & advocacy.
Further technological developments are needed to facilitate this access.
Thank you
Colin Rhinesmith:
Chris Ritzo:
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