Thoughts on the Digital Divide…

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What is the Digital Divide?  The digital divide implies a gap between people who possess regular access to technology, (such as computers and the resultant ability to get on the Internet), and those who have limited or no access to this at all.  Although it may appear that the majority of the worlds population has computers or internet access, it is unfortunately not so.  With the continued growth of educational, employment, and health related activities being performed by computer,  and the explosion of all things technological, a lack of access to computers can be, and is detrimental to progress and growth.

The digital divide is evidenced by definite disparities.  Where the divide is most noticeable is between races (a racial divide), between those middle class or rich and those living at or below poverty level (an income divide), and between those in rural areas and those living in cities.  It also affects seniors who, in general have difficulty keeping up with the latest technology.  Other barriers prove to be education, relevance, cost and a lack of technological skills.  Many people as of yet cannot afford computer systems.  If they can, they may not be able to afford the wireless internet connections necessary to access the internet.  If they can afford an internet connection it may be one obsolete or of slower quality as to not accommodate much of the particular programming offered on the internet today.

The value of internet access is seen in education, business, healthcare, government, jobs, and even in expanding the world of the homebound, etc.  Lack of this digital inclusion is a problem.

This is where our libraries can be of benefit.  Already libraries are providing internet access and computer time.  According to an article written in 2011, public libraries are stretched and are confined by limited resources.  However, our libraries must continue to serve as the community support and anchors in this fight to lessen the digital divide.  Libraries must continue and increase availability of internet labs. Libraries must continue and increase computer classes.  Promotion of technological offerings at our libraries can assist to close the gap of the existing divide in all areas.

Related to seniors and the disabled community, classes and computer availability in libraries must be more tailored to and specifically geared toward the special needs that these groups possess.  As important as providing adaptive equipment for use on computers, learning styles and comfort levels of these groups are a factor and should be taken into consideration when providing computer and internet sessions.  We also must definitely address the fact that getting to a library may not be feasible for seniors or disabled patrons, especially if they are homebound.  We must find a way to take the library and all of its benefits to them.  Detroits’ library on wheels makes rounds to senior centers and other senior facilities.  They were proud to show me their acquisition of two laptops placed in the LOW.  This is a way for seniors to be introduced to technology, and have an opportunity to use it.

Libraries, as information facilitators, have an obligation to do all they can to ensure equitable access for everyone.  Knowing we can’t solve all problems of the world, we must still make a concerted effort to address this one – the problem of inequitable access.  It will require us to think outside the box, establish some new alliances, and make technology and the internet as accessible as possible.

References

Crawford, S. (2011). The New Digital Divide, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/internet-access-and-the-new-divide.html?pagewanted=all

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