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But libraries haven’t always been able to boost the size of their pipes because of cost or availability of high-speed services in the area. More computers sharing the same pipes mean slower speeds, even as Google Inc.’s video-sharing site YouTube and interactive homework help sites like demand more capacity.

”We may be in fact where we were in 2002” when many libraries still had only slower, dial-up access, said Denise Davis, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Research and Statistics. ”Just everything is faster and larger files are being moved around.”

Las Vegas is one of the more fortunate systems, serving a growth area with ample revenues. Although it doesn’t have room to add computers, it has money to add bandwidth – something it had to do earlier this year with the growth of interactive sites.

”We were seeing a great slowdown after school,” Morss said. Students ”are looking at interactive sites. They are not looking at text-based sites. Everybody who wants their site to be viewed realizes they have to keep up with the competition.”

About half the libraries, however, say their connection speed is inadequate some or all the time. Yet 17 percent say they cannot get anything faster in the region, and another 18 percent say they cannot afford to upgrade.

The survey of 4,027 public libraries, conducted from September 2006 to January 2007, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The American Library Association conducted it with Florida State University and the Gates foundation, which distributes grants to libraries for new computers and high-speed connections.

The foundation’s Shaw said poorer families are at risk ”if the connection speeds … are not sufficient to take full advantage of what’s available on the Internet, and if there’s an insufficient supply of computers. Those of us who have regular access to computing, whether at home or at work, risk taking for granted that access.”

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