Saturday, February 25, 2006

Library Websites on the Other Side of the Digital Divide

I decided to take the opportunity of my annual visit to South Texas's Starr County, an area where I used to live and teach that has the dubious distinction of being one of the poorest counties in the country, to do a little library webquest. I know that this area is not exactly at the forefront of new technologies. In my teaching experience, most students did not have computers at home, even less students were on-line at home, and though the school had a lot of hardware, the staff often lacked the skills needed to employ it. With that background knowledge, and thinking of ways the digital divide manifests itself, I thought I might check-up on how many libraries were on-line, and to what extent.

What I found was troubling. As I expected, Starr County, the rural county where I lived, was not on-line at all. I didn't think this made for good "research findings," so I took a look at the counties on both sides of us, and then at those that span the Mexican border at the tip of Texas. I found quite a few nuts and bolts websites (with online catalogs and open hours) for some of the larger towns and cities. Hidalgo County has a consortium of ten libraries, eight of which are on-line. Some of these had outside links, some didn't; all had pretty basic design. A good example of that is McAllen (http://www.mcallen.lib.tx.us/), a three-branch library system with a pretty detailed site. I was surprised and pretty sad that in an area where Spanish is very much the dominant language, most of the websites were monolingual English, or that the Spanish coverage was pretty spotty.

A couple of notably great sites I encountered (comprehensive, visually pleasing, truly bilingual) were Weslaco (http://www.weslaco.lib.tx.us) and Laredo (http://www.laredolibrary.org).

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