It was only a handful of years ago when the library community was concerned about their role in bridging the digital divide between the Haves-and-Have-Nots when it came to information access. Less than that, even – this article by Helen Muller, titled ‘Conquering the Digital Divide,’ was published in American Libraries Magazine in 2011.
The ‘Haves’ are the people who have access to a computer and the internet at home or in other easily accessible ways, and the ‘Have-Nots’ are the people who do not. With the advent of less expensive devices and plentiful wireless access, including in many public libraries and in schools, I had thought that the gap was lessening.
Not so much according to a survey reported on the Ed Tech website. According to this article by Corey Murray, teachers working with lower income students are less likely to use technologies that are delivered by internet-capable devices, less likely to assign homework that needs online resources, have moved less of their teaching to online tools. They feel that only about 18% of their students can access information in the home.
I know this survey was published to raise awareness in the K12 environment as to a new aspect of the digital divide. Libraries are not mentioned as a resource to these students, I realize that. And I know that there are many libraries that have iPads and other tablet devices available to borrow – but borrowing is not the same as owning, not the same as loading the apps and customizing the devices. Saving login information. Saving websites! The Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM) has a great website for doing research for school projects and is bookmarked on all my internet devices, no matter how small.
On my recent trip to Mississippi, we accessed the internet many times while on the road, to check song lyrics, look up facts about towns we were passing, check on facts we were discussing, and even used it to download audiobooks. It’s just part of my adult experience now and I cannot imagine being with out it. How frustrating it must be to young people who are part of a generation we think of as being always connected, almost born wired into the internet, and to not have this access.