Dissertation Research: An Investigation of Citizens' Transactional use of Web-Sites in Public Libraries
H. Raghav Rao Principal Investigator
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This Science and Technology Studies Dissertation Research Improvement Grant will examine the determinants of the transactional use of websites in public locations by considering the facilitating conditions in a public library, user characteristics, social influence and individual affect toward the public usage behavior. It is hypothesized that these four dimensions will impact the transactional use websites from computers in this public environment. Prior research has established a direct relationship between the actual use of IT and the facilitating conditions which support the use of technology. Past work has also established a link between psychological privacy, architectural privacy and task privacy with respect to the activities that people feel comfortable pursuing in a workspace; however there is no work to date which examines these attributes with respect to computers located in public libraries. The research question will be tested by gathering data from people actively using public computers and the results will be statistically analyzed. Another dimension of privacy that has emerged from the PIs preliminary discussions with actual users is the individual concern about third party tracking of activities on the web. This new dimension will also be explored during this project. Two of the dimensions that define the digital divide are the socioeconomic status (SES) and the geographical location of the individuals. People with lower SES tend to be regular users public computers in libraries as they do not have access to computers in other areas. The lack of computers in homes is somewhat higher in rural than urban areas, and the quality of the internet connections are poorer in rural areas, therefore public libraries provide a source of quality access to technology and online resources. People with lower SES and people who live in rural areas exhibit more concerns about privacy in the workplace. These concerns may extend into their willingness to transact business with a website in a public location. Considering that these two groups tend to be regular users of public computing facilities, the physical environment of the public computer in a library may inhibit people in these groups from fully participating in government and commercial services delivered electronically. The project hypothesizes that the SES level will be related to the public transactional use of websites and in addition, the geographical residence location will also impact the transactional use of websites in a public environment. The sampling plan will be devised so that data will be gathered from these different groups and these hypotheses will then be tested using statistical methods to evaluate differences between the groups. A combined web and paper survey will be utilized to maximize the responses. Governments and private enterprises are spending vast amounts of time and resources to provide a wide range of services to citizens through web sites, however if the citizens are not willing to fully use all aspects of the services then the efforts are in vain. Literature addressing the problem of the digital divide indicates that public libraries are a primary source of service provision for citizens who do not have private computers and/or internet connectivity. The determinants of usage within this public context have not been investigated or quantified in prior research. This project is an effort to empirically investigate and quantify some of these determinants. This research proposes to examine citizen's use of computers in public locations for completing informational and monetary transactions with websites. <br/>The scope of this dissertation improvement proposal encompasses New York State, includes both rural and urban areas and has received the support of the NYS State Librarian and the Director of Technology in addition to the support from the director of the local library system. The impact of this research reaches from the individual public computing space up to organizations seeking to electronically provide services to citizens. If we are to bridge the digital divide by providing access to government services through public computers, then the computers need to be provided in such a manner that citizens will be willing to use the full range of functionality provided on the web sites. Differences between rural and urban residents and differences between different socioeconomic status members will be considered within this project. These results will impact the established public access infrastructure found in New York State and in the future could apply to other states across the US. The results of this research will be disseminated in journals and websites and also be used in courses in Library Science and Information Systems that are taught by the co-PIs. Statistics indicate that low income and minority citizens are the heaviest users of public library computers, therefore this investigation clearly targets this group.