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Earlier this week, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released its survey results about broadband adoption in the U.S.  Some of the highlights:

  • 70% of American adults have broadband at home
  • 3% are still on dial-up
  • A person’s age, education level, ethnicity, and household income radically affect broadband adoption
  • 95% of young adults have home broadband and/or a smartphone while only 46% of seniors have home broadband and/or a smart phone.
  • 46% of Americans have both home broadband and a smartphone
  • 24% have home broadband, but no smartphone
  • 10% have a smartphone, but no home broadband
  • and the last 20% have neither home broadband nor a smartphone

Subtracting out for the 3% who are still on dial-up (since they have some kind of [albeit crappy] personal internet access), that’s still a whopping 17% of the U.S. population that does not have any kind of independent, personal internet access.  These individuals might have access at work or school, but looking at the correlation of lack of access to low income, lack of education, and age (read: retired folks), I think that’s doubtful for many of the people in this category.

So who’s left to fill the gap here? Who’s left to provide internet access for the 17%?

Why, the public library of course.

digitaldivideIf you ever doubt that offering computers and internet access in your library is a worthwhile service, read this report again.

If you hear from people, as I do, that “the digital divide is gone,” make your meanest, angriest librarian face and tell them the facts.

If someone tells you that “only homeless people checking email and bratty kids playing games ever use the computers,” take a photo of your computer users some afternoon and then staple it to that person’s chest with a very large staple gun.

The digital divide is alive and well (unfortunately), and the public library is the only thing standing between our users and complete disconnection from the modern information world.

“The Public Library as Your Community’s Digital Bridge”

  1. Linda Says:

    Do you think public libraries are the only thing stopping a complete disconnect. There is free wifi in many locations – parks, shopping centres and fast food chains. And with so many people with smart phones I don’t believe public libraries are the ONLY location?

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  3. Andrew Says:

    @Linda

    Free Wi-fi is nice, but if someone doesn’t have a device to take advantage of it, it doesn’t do much good.

  4. Sarah Says:

    In the U.S. we don’t see free wifi available in parks, shopping centers, or other places. Almost everywhere there’s free wifi (with a few exceptions, the most notable of which is the public library) requires a purchase of some kind — food, coffee, something. For users who are economically disadvantaged, access to wifi that requires purchases is not very useful. In addition, as Andrew points out, if someone doesn’t have a device (and many don’t), then wifi doesn’t help at all.

  5. Erna Winters Says:

    The digital divide is not just about the access to internet but also understanding how to use it. How to search for information and how to judge whether the information is reliable. There is amongst politicians and decisionsmakers a strong believe that everything can be found on the internet, which is not true, and yes, that everyone has access. Even in the Netherlands (where I live and work) where around 95% of the population has access to internet at home, we see a lot of people in our public libraries using the computers. Why? Because if needed, they get help from a librarian, on finding the right information, helping them to fill in forms or help them to find their way on social media. We give courses (like so many other libraries all over the world) in using internet, social media etc. And a lot of the participants tell us that after the course they feel more secure in using the internet, not so worried about their privacy, and they like coming back in case they have any further questions. We give lessons on judging information for schools, and for adults, and these lessons are highly appreciated by the teachers and children. To a ‘know it all’ politician who tells me you can get all the information you want on the internet I usually give the example of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP bought the first ten hits on Google, and most people don’t look further then the first page on Google. So by checking out these websites you would get the idea that BP was in control, and the damage wasn’t that big. Most politicians admit, reluctantly, that they din’t know that and yes it is important within a democracy to be able to find all needed information.
    So in my opinion, bridging the digital divide starts with giving access, but also giving support on using it, judging it, valueing what you find.

  6. Linda Says:

    Clearly we are lucky here in Australia.
    Amazingly device ownership in both the US and AUS are high
    I still think though the advocacy message has to be more than libraries are good for free internet. Otherwise why not just have a large building that gives free internet and wifi?
    I love a good discussion about library advocacy :)

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  8. Ann Says:

    Love your blog, Sarah. Thanks for bringing this up. I was absolutely in the last 20% for years until recently. I had internet at work but not at home, but I had online classes for library school that met in the evening. The only place I could go without buying anything was the public library with my second-hand laptop. I was very lucky that my classes didn’t require headsets (for speaking), otherwise I would have had to park at a cafe so I wouldn’t disturb others. But what is more perfect than taking classes at a library using library resources to continue one’s education? Seems to me an ideal fulfillment of a library’s mission.

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