Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Once More, Into the Breach

Over at BlogJunction, our QuestionPoint (goodness, why did I type QuestionPoint??? And why didn't I notice until Chrystie pointed out on 06/05 that she works for...) WebJunction colleague Chrystie Hill has a thought-provoking post revolving around this question: "Is there anything that’s still relevant to me about my library?"

This is a relevant question! And is related to the data I refer to a couple of posts below that we have in-house and are publishing soon about peoples' perceptions and uses of libraries. Chrystie is much younger than I am, and one trend that's very evident among the data gathered is that younger people (14-25) have much less use for and interest in using libraries and their resources, print or otherwise, than older people. Perhaps this was ever so, but I suspect the disinterest is supported now by other technologies and ways of accessing and delivering content.

Chrystie also says: "Is there enough there there to sustain this concept of libraries for the public good? I’m afraid we can’t sustain ourselves serving only the people in our communities who have no money; the benevolence of our government or other benefactors is far from guaranteed."

Now, at the risk of starting another go-round with George about the Digital Divide (actually I thoroughly enjoy these debates!), this issue of sustainability and serving people with no money (and it's these people that are always assumed to be on the "have not" side of the DD) is huge. There are very few organizations that have sufficient funds, out of the public purse, to serve the disadvantaged adequately (welfare? medicare? food stamps?).

And the current sociopolitical climate, at least in the US, has more and more money being removed from funding the public good from government purses, leaving the gap to be filled, in theory, by generous private benefactors. One response from the library community is that we, then, must step up and bridge the divide on behalf of the disenfranchised.

What are the stats on TV ownership in the US? Rheotrical question because TV ownership is very, very high. There are few disenfranchised wannabe TV /owners/viewers. Why is that? Because most people choose to participate in that form of technology and will assume debt to participate. Which suggests that even people with low annual incomes decide to spend scare dollars on something they value.

OK, I'll stop being oblique. The so-called digital divide, in the US, is one driven by values. If people valued access to seek-it-yourself information, to email, to the internet in the same way that they clearly value access to network TV, I doubt there would be a digitial divide. The DD, simplistically, is a clash of values between what librarians think people want and need and what people opt to spend time and dollars on.

Here's a divide for you: my husand and I own a television. we never watch it. I haven't watched TV at home for almost 20 years. Ahhh, you say to yourself, that's what's wrong with her!


Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't think you are entirely correct. There are a lot of people who may own a cheap second have tv (we are talking under 20 bucks), that do not have any channels outside of maybe 1 or 2 free local channels. In my area, you can not get any channel package for less then 40$ a month unless you can prove that you are on a fixed income, then you can get 5 channels for $7 a month. Therefore, I know a lot of people who own a tv who can not use it because they do not have the money to purchase channels. The cost of computers is high - much higher then many low income families can afford, and free internet hookups are scarce.

Its not the publci that needs to decide that computers are so vital to life that the digital divide should not exist - its the politicans that need to decide, and thus make companies realize that computers and internet connections must be priced to be affordable for those with low incomes.

And then there is the technology barrier - anyone can pretty much sit down, push a button and be entertained by the tv. But not everyone has good eyesight to read a computer screen; nor have the hand eye coordination to use a mouse; nor have the visual capacity to sort through scrolling information; nor the concentration to be able to pcik out the right stuff from pop up ads! Using a computer requires use of certain skills (that are learned) and proactivness and concentration, which not everybody has, due to mental or physical problems.

Anonymous said...

This TV vs. Computers argument is odd...

Just because many people make a choice that doesn't seem to be a good one, doesn't mean that we should deny access to another choice that we think is better. That's like saying that because many people drive gas-guzzling SUVs, therefore we should not have public transportation because it uses fossil fuels. It's an illogical argument.

If anything, saying that TV is overvalued compared to computer literacy is an argument FOR having more computers in libraries, as it would stimulate awareness and usage. More people choose TV over reading, too... does that argue for taking the books out of libraries as well?

We have short memories. Private ownership and usage of home computers is still very, very new. The Mac came out in 1984... just about 20 years ago. That's peanuts in a social-evolution timeframe. And the Internet and email really only caught on about 10 years ago.

We have millions of people in the US who don't know how to use computers and related technology who aren't poor! I know, because I still have to help many of them figure out "what that little yellow smiley icon is for." I'm "that guy" for my extended family and friends. It's not just about class and wealth, it's about education and emphasis.

Whether it's because of where you're from geographically, your age, or your economic status, or just what else you've been up to... having a safe, friendly, non-affiliated place to go and learn about tech is hugely important.

When my grandfather, who, at the time was 91, found out that there were chat rooms focused on gardening (his passion), he then decided he needed a computer and the Internet. He went to his local library and took a series of computer literacy classes for seniors. He went to the library because, as a former superintendant of schools, he knew that that's where you go to learn stuff your whole life long. After taking the classes, he turned around and offered to teach them.

We need to better define the goals of computers in libraries, yes. But I don't think there's any question that knowing how to appropriately understand and interact with them and the wider issues related to technology in modern life is a key element of a successful life in 21st century America.

Anonymous said...

Hi - this is Chrystie, the author of said post, and I want to thank Alane for saying that it was thought-provoking. That's very nice, thank you.

I do want to clear up one tiny thing. I work with WebJunction, not QuestionPoint. As much as I love those QP folk, I have yet to infiltrate there with my anarchistic ways. :)

Another day, perhaps, I will get my chance...