The silent dilemma of the digital divide

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, education, government, technology and library experts gathered for “Responding to the Second Digital Divide,” a press briefing that explored the ways that libraries provide Internet access and technology training to their communities. Panelists detailed effective tactics to sustain and improve Internet accessibility in libraries and discussed future directions for public access to information.

The event coincided with the release of data (.doc) showing that the digital divide is expanding, affecting far more than the disconnected–according to a report, one-fifth of people with advanced online access have insufficient levels of digital skills.

Panelists included Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities; John B. Horrigan, communications and technology policy consultant and author of “The Essentials of Connectivity” report; Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the District of Columbia Public Library, and former chief librarian of the Brooklyn Public Library; and Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association.

“If the research for the digital skills divide has been around for years, why is there a renewed focus?” said Reyes-Gavilan. “I’d argue that it’s back on our radar because of this problem I’d like to call digital exclusivity. The world has lost its patience with those who cannot navigate the online world. And because those folks who cannot navigate the online world are typically uneducated, poor, or otherwise vulnerable, to many this group is really easy to overlook.”

Stripling discussed what she called the “silent dilemma” that many K-12 students face as they struggle to find both Internet access and reliable sources of information online. In her speech, Stripling highlighted the ways that school libraries provide technology resources and teach students to be digitally literate. Read Stripling’s remarks (.doc).

“Let us all imagine for one moment what it is like to be a student in today’s 21st-century learning environment,” said Stripling. “You, like a large percentage of students, attend a school where teachers expect you to know how to find accurate information online and have the technology skills needed to navigate online collaborative platforms, such as GoogleDocs and Blackboard. Where would you go for help with computer-based homework assignments? And how do you produce quality homework if you do not know how to properly research information available on the Internet?”

Government leader Anthony recommended that libraries become more proactive in marketing the value of their services to their communities.

“Libraries have always been a trusted center of lifelong learning in cities throughout America,” said Anthony. “And we’ve taken libraries for granted in a lot of ways because we’ve not told the many stories about the impact of libraries to the community.”

Read more about the press briefing in American Libraries magazine.

About Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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