Information Deserts

While listening to Bobbi speak today at ILEAD U about the importance of access in transliteracy, it got me to thinking about information deserts.  I am working on an article related to information deserts and thought I would share a few thoughts here:

How do we, LIS professionals, describe a locale in which access to unbiased information is difficult to obtain?   Are there areas in this country in which people cannot obtain information because of the lack of access to the Internet, community computer centers or a public libraries?  Are some people cut off from access to the sum of human knowledge, and all the benefits derived from such access?

An information desert exists where access to unbiased information is limited either through a digital divide or lack of access to public libraries.   In urban areas, like Chicago or New York, an information desert exists where computer-based Internet penetration falls below 60% and distance to a public library or public computer center exceeds .5 miles.  I come from the school of thought that does not think mobile Internet is a substitute for computer-based Internet or public libraries.

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

Cathy Michael, who writes the Communications & Legal Studies blog, posts a link to the text of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. She quotes Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on the importance of the act:

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is the most significant disability law in two decades.  The law’s provisions were endorsed in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.  They will bring communication laws into the 21st Century, providing people with disabilities access to new broadband technologies and promoting new opportunities for innovation.

More pertinent quotes from Chairman Genachowski can be found at the Communications & Legal Studies blog and the full text of the act can be found here.

Why Technology Matters for Children, The Digital Divide

Community Technology Programs Deliver Opportunities to Youth” is an 8:46 minute video in which young people help tell the story of why access to quality technology and training matters to their future. The video covers health improvement, educational achievement, workforce training and civic engagement of young people through the use of information and communications technology.

Produced by the youth of the Bresee Foundation together with The Children’s Partnership ©2007.

You Can’t Just say, ‘Here’s a Computer.’ You Can’t Just Say, ‘Here’s Cheap Internet,’You’ve Got to Teach a Man to Fish.

Sunset FishingEvery time I talk about transliteracy I mention this problem.

Providing access to highspeed broadband is only the first step.You have to think about the cost of hardware, the learning curve to use the hardware effectively.  After that is learning how to navigate the internet.  It’s not intuitive, there is no instruction manual and there is no formal training.

It is great that there is a national broadband plan but it does next to nothing to address the issues related the access and training once high speed is availabe.

So I love this quote from Waz: Top gadgets encourage broadband adoption

“You can’t just say, ‘Here’s a computer.’ You can’t just say, ‘Here’s cheap Internet,'” he said. “You’ve got to teach a man to fish.”

Read More:

Community Technology Empowerment Project

In an effort to help bridge the digital divide for recent immigrants and low income communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network has initiated the Community Technology Empowerment Project. According to their site:

The primary goal of this project is to help partner agencies utilize their existing community technology resources to better serve the needs of both youth and adults within their local neighborhoods, especially new immigrant, low-income residents and persons with disabilities.

A secondary goal is teach agency staff, volunteers and visitors how to use new technologies (including digital video and web) in order to help their constituents connect with existing civic, social service and community resources.

Additionally, all AmeriCorps CTEP members are required to mobilize volunteers at their host sites, participate in member development activities, and learn about civic engagement during their service year.

Citizen Media Law Project Laments Loss of Libraries

The Citizen Media Law Project, a “research center founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development,” points out, in a recent blog post, the contradiction between the FCC upgrading the broadband standard and communities facing library closures.

The prevalence of broadband-capable infrastructure is unimportant, so long as a main method of Internet exposure is dying. Dwindling library access, rather than stagnant Broadband penetration, is a far larger threat to the nation’s Internet access.

The post notes that libraries are the main source of Internet access for poor communities, especially noting how important this access is for job seekers during the recession who may no longer be able to afford Internet access at home to conduct job searches.

Part of the mission of The Citizen Law Media Project is “to build a community of lawyers, academics, and others who are interested in facilitating citizen participation in online media and protecting the legal rights of those engaged in speech on the Internet.” It is no surprise that they are concerned about “the tens of millions of Americans who are gradually losing their only avenue to a wealth of online resources.”

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Libraries Are a Bridge Between the Information-Rich and the Information-Poor

Ian Clark writes on the need for libraries in the digital at gaurdian.co.uk

Libraries are a bridge between the information-rich and the information-poor. They need reinforcing, not dismantling. We need to continue to provide a highly skilled service that is able to meet the needs of the general public. The service ought to continue to innovate to take advantage of the way in which people are interacting with the service in a different way. It needs to continue to bridge the gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not, while also ensuring it delivers on other aspects of its core service (book loans, local studies materials, etc). If the service is cut, we run the risk of an ill-informed society that is ill-equipped to prosper in the “information age” – a dangerous prospect for any democracy.

I could not agree with Ian more.  Siting the plethora of information freely available online as a reason for the dismantling of libraries does not take into account the other issues related to accessing it: a computer, high-speed internet access, the skills to filter, navigate and evaluate what is found.  Never mind that a great deal of information is not free.

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