Responding to the digital divide conversation without libraries

A Detroit Free Press op-ed written by John Gallagher was published today and came to my attention via a library Facebook group. I promptly reposted the article “Meijer’s hiring process illustrates digital divide” onto my own Facebook wall. I was interested to see what my journalism friends from college would say in response to my comment – because in a piece about the digital divide, and computers, and jobs, there was not a single reference to the public library system.

A friend who was my editor-in-chief at my college newspaper pointed out that at the end of the editorial, Gallagher requests input from the readers and that if I should take the time to respond in an email it might push the conversation along in the public sphere.

My email is as follows:

Dear Mr. Gallagher:

 
I was disappointed to not see a single word about the Detroit Public Library system in your op-ed “Meijer’s hiring process illustrates digital divide.” Although public libraries are under a lot of strain in these economic times with simultaneous decreases in funding and increases in use, they still work hard to make sure that citizens caught in the digital divide have a place of training and access. The Detroit Public Library offers both career and job application assistance as well as computer classes which are clearly listed under their services from the home page. In FY 2011-2012 36% of libraries saw a increase of technology classes and 60% reported an increase in computer use. This was at a time that 57% of reporting libraries experienced flat or decreased funding (American Libraries, 2012).
I believe the digital divide is a topic that needs to be addressed more – with the prevalence of smart phones, tablets, and other wireless devices it often seems like everyone is easily connected. However, Internet access is not always affordable even to those more financially secure and the subscription and data plans (not to mention the costs of the devices) is insurmountable to many people in the United States still. Yes, according to a new Pew Internet and American Life survey 56% of adults may own a smart phone but that still leaves out 44% of the American public (Smith, 2013). Plus in a household with an income less than $30,000 a year, the  number of smart phone owners declines to 43%. Furthermore, not all websites are friendly to mobile platforms.
The library is an excellent resource to community members but the difficulty is getting the word out to those who need the resources. Another Pew study found that 91% of people 16+ who were surveyed said that libraries are important, but only 22% said they know most of the services offered by their local libraries (Zickuhr, Rainie, & Purcell, 2013). Incorporating libraries into the mainstream media discussion of relevant topics like the digital divide will help increase that number.
How do you think libraries should get involved in the discussion more?
References
American Libraries. (2012). Special report: Public library funding and technology access study 2011-2012. Retrieved from http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/4673a369#/4673a369/8
Smith, A. (2013). Smart phone ownership 2013. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Smartphone-Ownership-2013.aspx
 Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L. & Purcell, K. (2013). Library services in the digital age. Retrieved from http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/01/22/library-services/
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