The title of this post is the result of a Twitter conversation that I had recently with librarians working in high schools and colleges. The conversation was about how teens/students do and don’t have access to technology and started with a Twitter post that linked to an article about the University of Virginia’s plans to phase out public computer labs.
I’ve been thinking about access to technology for a long time and I’ve realized more and more that there is a digital divide that isn’t frequently discussed.
What is this “other” digital divide that I’m talking about? It’s not the divide we see between rural and suburban. It’s the divide between people who do and don’t have laptops to bring to school in order to connect to the Internet, who do and don’t have needed software on home computers, or have or don’t have family rules that make it hard to do what they need (and want) to do online. As Jamison Hedin, Librarian at the Ludlow (MA) High School Library, put it in her Twitter post on the topic, “Access 2 software (esp. PowerPoint) and kids with draconian internet restrictions @ home are two key issues in my school” (By the way, another Twitter message from Jamison gave me the title for this blog post.)
The thing is, schools and public libraries are the place that teens can and should have access to the technologies that they don’t have at home. (Either because they don’t have computers, Internet, or software at home, or because they don’t get to access sites that they need to at home.) All too often I’ve heard librarians and school/public library administrators say, “We can’t have or use that technology here because not everyone has access to it at home.”
Wait a minute, think about that, if not everyone has access at home, doesn’t that actually mean that the library is the place where access should be available? If we level the playing field by not providing access, there’s no leveling going on at all. There will still be a divide between those that can access Facebook (for example) at home and those that can’t access it anywhere.
Access that helps to thwart the other digital divide relates to many technologies and shouldn’t simply be considered for physical computers and specific sites and software. For example, what about the teens who have MP3 players (iPods or something else) and those that don’t? Do the teens who can use and listen to music, books, and educational audio on an iPod have an advantage over those that don’t? If so, shouldn’t libraries find ways to give all teens that advantage?
Technology access for teens is a large issue that librarians serving the age group need to think about and discuss openly with their community. If librarians aren’t providing access to the hardware, software, and tools that teens need in order to gain information, learn about themselves, and grow-up successfully we are missing out on an important part of service to the age group.
As you think about this topic take a look at the post on the Learning Commons blog at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst that asked students what they wanted/needed for technology in the Commons. It should give you some good ideas and information on the kinds of access that youth need and are looking for.