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Friday
Feb072014

Can libraries really help close the digital divide. Yes, if...

Getting technology in kids' hands is not that hard; getting Internet access to those devices outside school hours is far tougher.

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from ALA's press officer taking President Obama to task for not mentioning libraries as part of the solution to closing the "digital divide" between the haves and have-nots of home Internet access. The official release read, in part:

Ninety-four percent of parents agree libraries are important, so I was disappointed to find libraries conspicuously absent in President Obama’s vision of connecting our students to world-class learning.

The President opened his remarks with his commitment to significant investments in education. But he missed the mark in a few key ways. First, he failed to recognize the importance of an effective school library program. ConnectED must include professional development and support for school librarians, in addition to broadband access and devices, to ensure students have the digital literacy and research skills necessary to effectively use those devices.

At a broader level, U.S. school, public and higher-education libraries complete education and help jumpstart employment in every community in this country. After school WiFi use in public libraries spikes at 3:01 p.m. when students bring their devices and homework assignments to one of more than 16,000 library locations. New digital learning labs in libraries are seed beds for people to create content, as well as consume it—demanding upload speeds that rival download. (full report is here)

I agree that public libraries can play an important part in helping all kids get access to online resources. Provided they make that their mission. The hours for our public library are: Monday - 10am–8pm Tuesday - 10am–8pm Wednesday - 9am–5pm Thursday - 9am–5pm Friday - 9am–5pm Saturday - 10am–4pm. Very limited. (I've taken the public library to task before about having employee rather than user-centric hours.) And to be honest, our own schools should be doing a better job extending the hours of their libraries as well. 

So ALA, while I want to be sympathetic, unless libraries offer more student-friendly times of operation, schools will need to look for other options to provide kids access to e-resources at home: subsidized DSL from a telco, devices with paid 3G/4G data plans, wireless access on school buses, less network-required resources and activities as part of instruction. I don't know. 

But libraries and librarians shouldn't whine about being left out when their hours don't reflect a willingness to be part of the solution here. 

OK, have at me.

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Reader Comments (2)

I definitely think school libraries need to step to the plate when it comes to helping families have access to the Internet and online resources at home. Many of my student live on farms and in a small rural town where the Internet is not very good. They do not have close access to the public library (public library is 35 minutes away) and many of our families are low-income as well so Internet access is not a high priority when they are concerned with the basic necessities like food and health care.

I realized that this year when I started teaching a 6th grade Computer Skills class and have of the students to do not have access to computers and/or the Internet at home. I can't assign homework when all of our work is done online. I just started an after school Computer Club this semester to help those students who do not have access at home, but I am doing this voluntarily and it is only for an 1 1/2 hours and only two days a week.

I wish there was some way that the government in our state care about helping small towns have access to the Internet so this problem could have a solution. The Internet access that most families have is sporadic and it doesn't always work.

Maybe someday...wishful thinking.

February 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia Rhinehart

Hi Marcia,

We have some of the same issues here with our smaller communities not having broadband and have some state-wide initiatives (sort of like the old REA programs for electricity) in operation.

Doug

February 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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