Want to know who is at the far end of the digital divide? Visit a public library and see who is there. Ask them why they’re there. Do they have a computer? Do they have broadband? Are their siblings hogging the one computer? Maybe they don’t understand how to fill out an online job (or medicare) application.
The Pioneer Press ran a nice article about librarians. In it, Susan Nemitz, the Ramsey County library director, outlines a few steps that we need to take to seriously address the growing gap.
- We need to implement a statewide vision and make a long-term commitment to universal information access. Recommendations from Minnesota’s Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force begin to outline measurable goals and support national and international benchmarks. This region must begin to implement these recommendations with or without federal stimulus money. It is a critical investment in our future.
- Institutional stakeholders, community and business leaders, elected officials, and community advocates need to create new partnerships and alliances to support wider efforts, like those the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is fostering in Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul, to connect public, private and nonprofit organizations to accelerate the expansion of broadband infrastructure, increase broadband adoption and improve technical and information literacy across our region. Complementary initiatives, like the broadband network linking several cities, school districts and libraries in suburban Ramsey County, have already resulted in significant government agency cost savings and improvements to public services.
- The most cost-effective first step to accelerate broadband deployment is to create universal access to broadband through the nations’ public library systems. Libraries provide a geographically distributed infrastructure already in place. We need to concentrate our focus on improving access to high quality computer and Internet resources in public libraries, not only though investments in technology, but by also expanding the availability of these resources at times people need them.