Wednesday, June 12, 2013

‘Without a Net’: Digital divide explained

Book cover: "Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide" by Jessamyn C. West
Jessamyn C. West explores the facets of computer use and Internet accessibility in her book, Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).

The digital divide, according to West, is about:
“Some people lacking skills that other people consider basic, starter or remedial, and not having a peer group or an educational system that can teach you. It’s also about people assuming, ‘Oh, everyone knows that,’ and moving right on by. The digital divide isn’t about not having a computer, though that can be part of it. The digital divide isn’t really about not knowing how to use a computer, though many people I work with can’t. The digital divide is about not knowing anyone who knows how to use a computer well enough to teach you. It’s about not being part of a tech-literate culture and not knowing a way out of that setting.”
West’s book addresses a variety of topics related to computers and the Internet. She carefully and thoroughly examines several areas that people are presumed to know about and suggests ways to explain them.

According to her definition, above, I was never truly isolated by the digital divide. I did not have immediate access to the Internet and web when they were emerging technologies, but the Sonoma State University computer labs were a short walk from my home.

Library computers were my passport to joining an increasingly tech-literate society. My career as a journalist and newsletter publisher was made possible by library computers. Most recently we used public library computers to print applications for our apartment in Ashland, Oregon.

Helping to bridge the digital divide and promoting information literacy are two highly important components of library service.

No matter what form a library collection takes, there will be an ongoing need to help people avoid being left behind by an increasingly digital society. Libraries are a natural setting where people can find information and resources. West’s book identifies areas that outreach needs to address.

Additional resources: A companion web page for Without a Net includes handouts and presentations, related websites, appendix, bibilography, frequently asked questions and more.

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