When initially looking at the Pew Research Report statistics Crystle Martin referred to in her YALS article, A Library’s Role in Digital Equity, one may assume the digital divide is coming to a close with the rise of teen’s access to technology. According to the 2015 study:
87% of teens have access to a desktop/laptop computer
73% of teens have access to a smartphone
58% of teens have access to a tablet computer
The report also shares the primary way teens access the internet with 91% of them using mobile devices at least occasionally. This means if a teen has a mobile phone with internet access they are adequately connected to the digital world, right? Martin counters this argument by throwing down more facts such as, “one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.” Resulting in a significant part of the population being under-connected according to the “Opportunity For All?” findings.
What does this have to do with libraries, though? In the current trend of libraries increasingly adding “innovation” to mission statements and “technology skills” to job descriptions while working towards increasing access we may be missing the key element in creating digital equity, or equal access and opportunity. Giving teens school tablets or providing free library wifi is a great start, but what happens when that teen lives in a home without an internet connection or lives too far away from the library to attend on weekends? When used correctly technology can be a valuable tool in fostering digital participation, but our approach as educators is the most important action to take.
Before you start diving into the rabbit hole of 3D printers and virtual reality programs, stop and think about your community. The Future of Library Services for and with Teens is a great call to action with five elements created to support library staff serving teens. While reading the report, I can’t help but compare it to Randy Stoecker’s Research Methods for Community Change ingrained into my brain during library school. While Stoecker’s work in this article is mostly academic, his approach focuses on participatory practices reflected in the Future’s Report.
“Good research on the front end of a program can actually reduce waste further into the program. Research that goes into diagnosing, planning, and assessing can make project dollars go further and have more impact… Making change involves action.”
Research can be a scary word, but when taking a participatory approach by researching with people instead of on them (re: working with and for teens) like Stoecker we step into “A Call to Action” territory.
My call to action for library staff is to extend your focus beyond access to technology and work towards creating digital equity. This shift seems simple by definition as digital equity is about making sure all teens have equal access to technology as well as the training tools to excel. As stated in an International Society for Technology in Education article, 7 things every educator should know about digital equity, this phrase is easier to define than solve. While ISTE shares real life stories of how technology can be used to effectively increase digital equity, as library staff we need to listen to these stories and learn how to embrace a new way to approach technology and education.
Hailley Fargo balances these tasks as she reflects on Digital Learning Day by sharing digital literacy resources in The Digital Equity Toolkit. The YALSA Futures Report’s five elements of action also stretch across all aspects of library services and embody both participatory research and digital equity by embracing our role as facilitator, partnering strategically and supporting stakeholders in reaching our goals.