Digital Inclusion

The Information Policy & Access Center has released their findings from a 2013 Survey about Digital Inclusion.

You can read the full report online.

Digital Inclusion is more than Digital Literacy, focusing on not just access but supporting users to engage in digital communities. The report explored the roles of public libraries in four main areas:

  • Quality access to digital technology
  • Access to a range of digital content
  • Services and programs that promote digital literacy
  • Programs that address key community needs, such as health and wellness and education, and that promote workforce development and civic engagement.

Overwhelmingly what we discovered is that libraries have increased access to computer workstations and faster internet and technology infrastructure like outlets and wireless printing.

  • All libraries offer access to online databases.
  • Almost all libraries offer homework assistance.
  • Most libraries offer access to e-books,
  • While over a quarter of libraries provide patrons with e-readers to check out.

The survey has also documented the innovations that are happening in libraries like Mobile Technology and 3D Printers which have been adopted in 1.5% of libraries.

What the survey highlighted is that while we are providing access to technology and content we are creating a different type of digital divide.

City Libraries are able to

  • make more upgrades to technology infrastructure like workstations and outlets,
  • offer an Average Internet Download Speed that is 5X faster than Rural Libraries.

Only 32.5 percent of rural libraries can support formal technology classes,

  • while 77.6 of city libraries offer formal computer skills training
  • 100% of city libraries surveyed reported that they offer either formal or informal technology training.

We know that rural communities have less access to resources, but as we work to support STEM in schools these gaps can put communities even further behind.

In addition to being an information center, many libraries serve as a central location where members can gather to foster community.

Over half of Suburban and City Libraries host community engagement events

while less than half of town libraries and less than one-third of rural libraries are able to engage and support the community in this way.

As more and more people connect online, the library can be one of the few places where the public can engage with members of the community, be exposed to diversity, and gain a better appreciation for and connect to their neighbors in a comfortable and relaxed environment. While hosting a book club, candidate forum, or gaming seems small, these can be one of the few places in the community outside of school where everyone has a chance to interact and participate.

Lastly Health and Wellness is an area we can all improve. With the move to National Health Care, and the confusion of much of the public I expected to see many libraries offering programs and support, but a mere 37% of surveyed libraries offered programs that assisted patrons in finding and accessing health insurance information.

 

The one area of Health and Wellness that libraries are addressing is promotion of a healthy lifestyle, but only 55% of libraries offer these types of programs and it drops to 44% for Rural Libraries.

We have made many strides since the last study was conducted in 1994, but we still have a long way to go. With so many free online courses available libraries have even more access to resources than they did before. We can partner with organizations like ‘ Workforce Career and Job Training, CoderDojo, Code.org, Healthcare.gov, local health providers, and other community organizations to help serve patrons and create a more informed citizenry.

This is the first survey to provide detailed data about how libraries are serving the public. As we apply for grants to support the needs of our communities, I hope this survey helps frame the needs of our library users.

Ipac has framed the survey results in the context of the communities libraries serve. You can access a mapping tool online at http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu to explore the services available in your community.

All images from http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/infographics

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder
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