Bridging the Digital Divide with Libraries
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The importance of digital technology in our everyday lives is constantly increasing. Tech is intertwined with everything, from medicine and education to grocery shopping and talking with loved ones. More and more, the average American needs Internet access to complete basic tasks.
What Is the Digital Divide?
The gap between those who have reliable access to technology and the Internet and those who don't is called the digital divide. It's a defining issue of the 21st Century.
Digital Divide and Libraries
Libraries are at the forefront of that effort. Providing access to WiFi and other technologies, libraries offer a community that can effectively bridge the gap. They do this by offering Internet access and courses in computer use to their communities. Let's explore the digital divide and what libraries are doing to mitigate it.
Lower-income households feel the digital divide the most. Of households making less than $25,000, 67% have a computer, and only 51% have an Internet subscription. Compare that to households that make between $50,000 and $99,000-94% own computers and 86% have Internet access-and the difference is stark. Race and age are also factors. Older households tend to have lower rates of computer ownership. The same is true for Black and Hispanic households.
This divide was most keenly felt when the world went remote in the wake of COVID-19. The move to remote learning was a struggle for many, but it was even tougher for families without consistent computer and Internet access.
Without a computer and Internet access, remote learning is essentially impossible. Thankfully, this is an area where libraries can help.
Library WiFi and the Community
Libraries have always served as gathering places for their communities. In the age of the Internet, that role is even more important.
At the most basic level, libraries provide Internet access to people who otherwise wouldn't have it. This is an essential service in a world where things like job applications are done online.
But libraries are more than digital technology hubs. The digital divide is both an access gap and a skills gap. Libraries provide a space to learn computer skills. They allow people to become familiar with a computer, even with basics like using a mouse and keyboard or a touch screen. These are skills that many people take for granted. But not everyone knows how to use a computer, especially older people who did grow up with computers, smartphones, and tablets. Digital literacy is an important skill for all people. Libraries are an essential part of helping people navigate the digital world.
Closing the digital divide is a massive undertaking, and while it won’t be solved overnight libraries are doing their part to make the world a more equal, connected place.
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