OUR STORIES | Waiting time: Digital divide in South Minneapolis


A young mother waits patiently to use the computer at the Franklin Library on a rainy, snowy, miserable February day.  Lisa (not her real name) checks the time on her phone, knowing she has two more hours before she has to be home. If she can just be patient, she can apply for a job she saw, with a listing that read “No phone calls please. Apply online by tomorrow.” 

Lisa is a real person, but she asked that we not use her real name.

When Lisa’s kids get off the bus, she has to be there to let them in. It’s too cold for them to stand outside waiting.  Once she gets a computer at the library, Lisa can use it for one hour, but it’s going to take her at least half of that to just check for messages from yesterday’s job search and to get her cover letter typed for today’s job application. 

“If I could just get a job,” she says, “then I would buy a computer and I could take care of more business.” 


The Digital Divide in Minneapolis

A 2012 City of MInneapols survey described the digital divide:

“The results are in on a survey the City of Minneapolis conducted in January to understand how Minneapolis residents use computers, mobile devices and the Internet to better their daily lives. The survey results show that 82 percent of Minneapolis residents have computer with Internet access at home, but technology accessa nd knowledge gaps still exist with certain demographics of the city. …

“Only 57 percent of Phillips residents and 65 percent of Near North residents reported having Internet access at home. What’s more, 45 percent of African-Americans reported not having a computer at home and 25 percent said they do not have Internet access at home.”

As it is, using the library computer is the only way she can talk to her son, who lives up north and has a computer. With emails and social media sites like Facebook, she is able to stay connected with him.

“My daughter’s school called,” she says. “They wanted to make sure I signed the form they sent online, so they could test her for a summer program.”  

Lisa checked her wallet. Did she have enough money to pay for the copies she needed? There are all kinds of distractions when she comes to the library to use the computer: Does she have enough time? Money to print?  The correct information on hand for any applications?

Her library time is almost up. She has to get online or forget it, and try to come back tomorrow. She hopes it’s not too late to apply for that job. It looked like a good one for her. If only she could apply from her phone, but it takes way too long to fill out an application on the phone.

Even when she uses the library computer, the job application site will time her out if she isn’t ready with all the information they ask for.  If she doesn’t get her time at the computer today, she’ll return tomorrow.

Today Lisa got on the computer, and found an email from her son. For one day — triumph!

When her time is up, she heads home on the bus, happy that she had an email from her son. She’ll have to come back another day to check for a response to her job application. The cycle continues, on the wrong side of the digital divide.