Friday, November 03, 2006

WLA 2006: Small Libraries and The Digital Divide

Friday, 10:30-11:45am

This was a presentation by Jessamyn West, author of, co-editor of Revolting Librarians Redux, an ALA councilor, a rural librarian, and library activist.

Links to info mentioned in her presentation are available at

People don't use computers for all sorts of good reasons:
  • the information poor
  • the information don't care
According to the Vermont Telecommunications plan, reasons for not using the internet recently are...
  1. 40% don't have a computer
  2. 20% have no interest
  3. 15% don't like computers
  4. 2% have never heard of the internet
Often the library has a better chance of getting DSL or cable internet access than the home user because ISPs need to be convinced to run a line out to them.

The Pew Digital Divisions survey splits users into three loose categories:
  1. The "truly disconnected" (22%)
    One in five American adults have never used the Internet or email and don't live in an internet connected household.
  2. The highly wired elite (33%)
    broadband at home. high income, high education, generally younger
  3. everyone else (40%)
    modest connections (dial-up) or they live with someone who's "connected"
Large public libraries in small states in Jessamyn's experience:
  • Management treats technology as just another resource, like books or CDs doesn't know what a browser is
  • Staff is alternately critical and uncritically accepting
  • Patrons are alternately confused/needy and demanding; the more they use technology the more they hate our OPAC
  • Community could look to library as a leader, but do they? We have to be mechanics; it's just changed from from fixing toilets to fixing computers.
Some management problems are disguised as money problems.

Adding things like blogs, wikis, etc. realistically speaking, "how am I going to find time to do any of this?
  • Realism [setting expectations, what you can/can't have] figure out what you can and can't offer; knowing when's appropriate to say no
  • Decisiveness you don't need to form a committee or wait until the next board meeting to decide whether to use flickr to upload your photos; deputize people to do things; "maybe I should just build this and get back to you"
  • Problem solving for everyone!
Plan for...
  • Friction
  • Scaling: maybe this will work for 5 users, how about 500 users?
  • Saving the time of the user: does this make things easier for our patrons, or more difficult?
What can you do for your patrons?
What can you do to help your staff do an awesome job? Ask your staff, "What do you need from me to do an awesome job?"

Social software:
  • Help people connect; the future world will be more software, less hardware
  • Lure people into your library with new tech
  • Give your staff time to explore and play with technology so they can better help your library's patrons
In many rural situations, you are your community's local expert about the internet and technology.

1 comment:

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