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By offering free access to computers and the Internet, public libraries are helping close the digital divide, according to a new study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several national civic partners. The report found that more than 95 percent of library buildings now offer Internet access, compared to only 28 percent of entire library systems in 1996. This increase, notes the study, is a boon for low-income children and adults less likely to have computers at home, school or work. Yet the study finds that gains are in jeopardy as public libraries cope with severe budget cuts, forcing some to limit hours, lay staff off or close altogether.

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