28 Days of Teens & Tech #4: What’s the Digital Divide?

I get frustrated sometimes when talking with librarians that work with teens and they tell me, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a technology) with teens because our computers won’t load it.” Or, they might say, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a technology) with teens because it’s blocked in our school.” Or, they might tell me, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a digital device) with teens because not everyone has those at home.” Or they might say…. I could give you several more excuses, oooops examples, but I won’t.

What makes me so frustrated is that in many instances, what librarians say to me does amount to a load of excuses. I know that they aren’t lying, but, really these reasons shouldn’t be accepted and librarians should be regularly working to change the “can’t'” to “can.” What happens when we just have a load of “can’t” is that teens in those schools and libraries end up being on the “wrong” side of the digital divide. And, from what I hear and see in libraries and with teens, this is a really serious digital divide that we are creating. It’s not a digital divide of have and have nots based on family/home economics. It’s a digital divide of haves and have nots based on how well teens are able to access current technologies in their libraries and learn how to use those technologies with the help of teachers and librarians.

I think about those teens who are fortunate to be in school systems and public libraries where technology access and teaching of digital literacy skills is not hindered. I then compare them with teens who are not having opportunities to learn technology in the same way. When these two different groups of teens go to college or out into the work force, which do you think is going to be better prepared? Who is going to be on the “right” side of the digital divide and who is going to be on the “wrong” side of it?

I know change is sometimes slow. I know that change can be hard to bring forth. But, I also know, that if librarians keep telling me that they “can’t” because…. that we are going to continue to see teens who do not have the skills they need in order to move forward into adulthood.

If you work in an institution in which you find that “can’t” is a common refrain, stop accepting it and plan what you can do that will bring about the refrain of “can.” Perhaps next time someone in the library tells you that you can’t use YouTube with teens because there are videos available there that could be construed as offensive, you reply by saying something like, “I think we can and here’s why and how.” Go to the person who is saying “can’t” and have a solution at the ready.

You can have the solution ready by talking to librarians that are already successful in this area to get ideas of how they moved from “can’t” to “can.” Prepare by thinking about what it is that is really the cause of the “can’t” approach with the person to whom you are going to talk and consider how you can remove that cause. For example, is the cause a fear of parental complaints? If so, then talk to some parents and gain their support and come up with a plan for informing parents about how the technology is going to be used, why it’s a good approach, and how it will actually help their teen son or daughter. If the cause is lack of funds, prepare the solution with examples of grants that others have received to pay for the same type of technology integration. You can also show how you can use library funds more successfully by integrating the technology you want to use. Maybe you no longer need to spend dollars on printing booklists because you now have a Facebook Fan Page where those resources are posted. Talk about the new ways to spend dollars that are no longer needed for more traditional services.

Don’t let “can’t” get in the way of providing teens with the best service possible. And, don’t let “can’t” add to any type of digital divide we have in this country.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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4 Comments

  1. I would agree with you on many of your points. However, in my situation, I have encountered the can’t due to library and county policies. This does not stop me from playing at work and at home in discovering cool tech toys and apps teens could use. However, even with the limitations, I do find creative ways to use what I have physically mixed with many software that can be used online without having to download straight into the public computers/laptops. I love working in the clouds.

  2. I agree with Montgomery, too. Add an antiquated technology infrastructure and an outside technology contractor that you have to call when to “unblock” a particular website, and you get frustrations. I have called and “ranted” about websites that should be unblocked and was successful. But, I have also learned to work with the tools in which I do have access that can give our teens the opportunities they need.

  3. This is such a difficult situation. It is also incredibly frustrating to be the librarian trying to get teachers and students to use exciting new tech tools and gadgets, and constantly getting the same answer from the IT folks that the policy doesn’t allow it for whatever reason. I would love to have a widespread conversation that really clarifies what we are and are NOT required to do to follow the laws designed to protect children, because I think administrators, lawyers and network engineers tend to block many things they assume are “harmful” or “inappropriate” in the name of the law, when those same tools being blocked can be of great use to teachers and students with a little guidance in the right direction.

  4. Call it excuses or whatever, but when you have to tell a tech director what streaming video is (it still didn’t get through to him), then you need to replace the tech director. When you have firewall issues so that even your school mail is blocked, it is time to replace the tech director. When students bring in their own laptops to work on and can’t get the wireless code/ the proxy code, or the password, and I have to secretly give it to them because the tech director will not allow them to connect, it is time to replace the tech director. When there are always issues with the online grading and attendance system which is not their fault, it is time to replace the tech director. When the tech director purchases a VCR-DVD duplicator to save money by burning DVD’s of old VHS movies and has to be told there are copyright problems, then it is time to replace the tech director. When only he can unblock sites because he does not trust his staff, it is time to replace the tech director. When the school website is run by a software program from the 90’s and he refuses to change it because “it would take too much time,” it is time to replace the tech director. When the tech director calls his staff to ask them how to do simple procedures, it is time to replace the tech director. Oh, and the Superintendent thinks he is great because he is so diligent keeping us “safe” and blocking sites, and then she gets a three year extension because the school board thinks she is doing a great job…

    I could go on about students not returning USB drives because they don’t have their own- they can’t access their email or use Google docs to get documents home, and how the town shows up to always vote down school contracts even though we are one of the lowest paid in the state…but I digress…

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