Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Digital Division

I've been doing some research on the digital divide for a class and specifically looking for articles that are mindful of the human aspects of it. There's not a whole lot out there, and it tends to be more anecdotal than "real research." I'm thinking this idea of multiple divides (computers, connections, skills, urban/rural, generational, etc.) has yet to make it to the center of the field's consciousness.

Denise Agosto's "The Digital Divide and Public Libraries: A first-hand view" from Summer '05 Progressive Librarian calls our attention to the differences that can exist between high and low-income library branches within a system. She raises the excellent point that the most and best computers are usually in the areas where most residents have computers at home and on the other side of the digital divide hardware is often lacking. Furthermore, limited resources mean limited access which makes having the technology skills needed to make tech time really count is even more necessary (and the training this would require even less likely).

In "The Multiple Dimensions of the Digital Divide: More than technology 'haves' and 'have nots'" (Government Information Quarterly, 2003), John Carlo Benet examines the special situation of rural areas. Often they lack the infrastructure (including telecommunication lines) for real connectivity to even be an option. These places which are physically isolated may also really benefit from virtual access to national and global communication and information. Along with this comes the need for information literacy training to enable the humans to get the most from the machines.

Finally, Andrew Blau in "Access Isn't Enough" from American Libraries June/July 2002 examines the difference between access and competence. He cautions against thinking that a shrinking gap is more a sign of approaching equality than the creation of an information underclass that is easier to ignore. Access must be for the community as a whole rather than individuals and must highlight the results that can be achieved through effective use.

All of this material has interesting implications for those of us who work with low income students, those that may not have the access of their more privileged peers but will need to compete in the same technological workforce and deserve to fully travel the communication and information pathways that technology has opened up. I think it means that we need to use it all in the schools, at least for the sake of exposure, and find the best ways to help our students really engage with it.


Blogger Lauren said...

Excellent post! The same dilemmas exist both in schools and public libraries. The systems that have the least money are the least able to provide the latest and greatest technology. Which leaves the economically disadvantaged to become the technologically disadvantaged, and will affect lifelong prospects.

7:05 PM  

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