Digital Inequality and the role of Librarians

My assignment in one of my courses for the Masters of Educational Technology this week was to begin research on the issues of the digital divide and digital inequality.  While I will typically post information related to my assignments on my EdTech Learning Log, I decided to post it here because of the intersection between digital inequality and the role that librarians can play in bridging this divide.

Most of the readings for the week focused on the evolution from a “digital divide” examining the haves and have nots, to a “digital inequality” that examined the nuances of internet use.

Here is my reflection on the readings for the week:

I really enjoyed the research and readings on the topic of Digital Divide and Digital Inequality this week.

First, I was surprised that the US has fallen to 19th in the world for broadband access. I believe this is the result of the reticence of US government to regulate internet access as a utility. In my opinion, there should be a national campaign to provide broadband internet access to all areas of the country, similar to the effort to provide telephone access last century.

I found the DiMaggio (2001) article on the Digital Divide and Digital Inequality very informative. It is interesting to think about the evolution of this issue from a bifurcated digital divide examining the haves and have nots, to a more nuanced understanding of digital inequality with five dimensions.

What struck me while reading through this and other articles was the role that librarians can play in bridging digital inequality. Many times, libraries are assigned the role of bridging the digital divide only, and rather passively at that. Public libraries in particular provide access to the internet for those who cannot afford it at home.  However, librarians can and should have a much larger role. The articles discussed issues of information literacy — skills in which librarians excel and can provide assistance. Unfortunately, there appears to be a disconnect between the fields of educational and information technology and library science. Very little was said about librarians’ roles in helping to bridge digitial inequality as opposed to the digital divide.

For example, in the DiMaggio article, the concept of “cognitive access” was discussed.  I was not familiar with this phrase. When I read the definition however, “the extent to which users are trained to find and evaluate the information they seek”, I realized that it was simply discussing information literacy using different terminology. As a librarian, I teach students how to find and evaluate information daily, including selecting proper resources, searching effectively, and analyzing results.

One challenge in providing information literacy is the popular perception that being digitally literate means that an individual is also information literate.  The statistics provided in the DiMaggio article demonstrate this fallacy: 77% of web searchers used only one query, and looked for results on only the first page. Recent research on a specialized medical database indicate that these ineffective search strategies persist: the average search phrase was three words or less, and searchers did not look past the first two pages, even though the medical database displayed articles in date, not relevancy, order. My challenge is to help patrons understand that there are better resources to search than just Google (or just Google Scholar!), and that advanced searching strategies will yield better results.

One article (McCollum, 2011) that I found through ERIC discussed needing to move beyond thinking that providing equipment alone solves the digital divide. Rather, training to effectively use online information is key. The author asks, “What are the skills and forms of knowledge that allow young people to be full-fledged digital citizens? Some kids are getting access to those skills, and some kids are not”. Unfortunately librarians are not mentioned as a resource for obtaining these information literacy skills.

I would argue that librarians have a large role to play in developing information literacy skills in a digital age. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between the fields of educational technology and librarianship. Some of the blame rests with outdated stereotypes of librarians held by those in information technology and society at large.  Some of the blame rests with librarians who have not marketed their information literacy skill set in the digital arena (or who are reluctant to do so). Both worlds would be better served with closer collaboration. I hope that my pursuit of the MET will help to bridge this “divide” in my own universe.

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One Response to Digital Inequality and the role of Librarians

  1. Pingback: Digital Inequality and Presenting Through VoiceThread « Beth Transue: EdTech Learning Log

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