People have always talked about the digital divide simply in terms of who has internet access and who doesn’t; which households have computers and which don’t… because that’s always been the easiest way to explain it, but it’s only capturing about a third of the picture… We also need it to addresss literacy and skill on the one hand and content on the other. If you’re able to teach a community of people who previously had no social and cultural influence how to use these tools to have their voices heard no matter what their political persuasion is or what their political persuasion is or whatever their family goals are. If they can use these tools to make their community a better place; improve the quality of life for their families then the internet’s been a success for them… so the digital divide isn’t just about giving pople low cost internet access; it’s about giving people to tools and the skills to improve the quality of lives for themselves and their families and communities.
Sounds a whole lot like what libraries traditional role in communities is, doesn’t it? I think Andy’s dead on and it’s completely within the fundamental goal of ‘library’ to teach and participate in these tools rather than simply provide access to them.
When considering the digital divide as it applies to libraries, however, we must consider the divide that exists within the profession and not only in the community we’re trying to serve. The fact is that many libraries bridge the digital divide by providing internet access and stopping there because that’s where their skills end – this is understandable of course. But it’s now our professional responsibility to do more to close the digital divide and to do so we must be comfortable with these tools.
If you looked at the internet ten years ago maybe 20% of the population was online but now it’s close to 70% or 75% and numbers have gone up dramatically for most demographic groups included disadvantaged groups and some people would just assume the digital divide is bridging itself and we don’t have to worry about it, but I’d argue the digital divide is worse than ever because if you only have 10% or 15% of the population that is offline then the rest of the community, the rest of the country, is just going to assume that everyone has access and so more government services move online. There’s more of an expectation in schools to use these tools. There’s an expectation that if you’re going to get hired in a job you’re going to know how to use these things. And so the pressures and the requirements and the benefits of these tools have been ramped up so high that if you’re one of the groups that are still offline you are even more disenfranchised than you were before… and so I think there needs to be more public awareness; more investment done at the federal, state, and local levels and more commitment by the private sector and by philanthropy. Basically everyone needs to step up to the plate again and pick up where we left off a few years ago… [Emphasis added.]