Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Internet access...the role of the library

Nearly a third of the Americans use their public library for internet access. If you consider how disproportionate access is across class lines, you won't be surprised that 44% of Americans below the poverty line access the internet at the public library. This use extends to all age groups with teenagers being the most active user demographic.

In the age of the internet, where nearly 76% of cell phone users over the age of 13 subscribe to smartphones, Google is a verb, and the little girls who live below me nearly fainted when I told them that the internet didn't exist (as we know it) when I was born, this statistic is both alarming and encouraging.

Alarming because the probability that the population using the library on a regular basis has overlap with the population who own smartphones (or a plethora of other internet capable devices) is slim. Yes, I realize that more people own cell phones than personal computers, but one can infer from the demographics that technology and, by extension, information access is still strongly divided along class lines. Many of those who use the computers regularly at their local library do so not because of the environment or aesthetic appeal, but because they have no other recourse. As more and more information is becoming born-digital, is our society excluding people of certain demographics from information access?

Encouraging because libraries have stepped up and are trying to prevent this inclusion. The library still remains an amazing asset to its community. Providing access is allowing the democratization of information. However, as internet access becomes a primary service at many libraries, these institutions are struggling to keep up with demand. Computers are expensive and taxpayer funds are being cut. Facing these obstacles, what can the little library do to prevent access to information from becoming available to only the elite?

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