The holiday season is over. Brand-new smart phones, laptops and gadgets are in the hands of many young people. Despite the flood of tech presents that were gifted this season, it is important to be mindful that there are still many families that do not have reliable Internet access in their homes. For years, librarians have been talking about the digital divide, referring to the gap that exists between people who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. More recently, the focus has shifted to also include the quality of connection to the Internet.
According to Pew Research Center, school-age children in lower-income households are especially likely to lack broadband access. Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17, whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year, do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. This is compared with just 6% of such households earning $75,000 or more a year (Anderson, Perrin 2018).
In addition, 17% of teens say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection (Anderson, Perrin 2018).
What does this mean for Youth Services Librarians? The local library continues to be a central place where children and teens gather when they need to access the Internet. When working with school age children and teens, keep a line of communication open with the local schools. This relationship is highly beneficial. Does your library have any flexibility in extending computer hours during high traffic times or offering special hours for students working on assignments?
Brainstorming spaces within the library walls where families can utilize computers together is another great option to consider. Nearly all computer labs have rules about noise and often specific age requirements. Creating spaces where parents are able to comfortably use computers while working next to their children is a win-win for everyone.
Helping connect families at the library is crucial, but we can also take the time to research other spots within the community that provide free Wi-Fi when the library is closed. Does your library offer hotspots to be checked out? If not, do other local libraries offer this service? Stay current and know what local options are available to your patrons.
Finally, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with programs that offer internet discounts for qualifying families. The following resources can also be helpful when exploring different options:
Whether you work with Preschool or school-age children, teenagers, families or all of the above, navigating a digital world without a dependable internet connection can be a major disadvantage. As we enter 2019, be aware of the connectivity challenges that exist, and encourage community conversation about the gaps that are specific to your location.
Perrin, A., & Anderson, M. (2018). Nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide. Retrieved from http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/01/22/library-services
For further reading on the Digital Divide and Homework Gap:
Kate Johnson has worked for Twinsburg Public Library since 2005. She was the Manager of Youth Services for eight years and recently became the Manager of Community Outreach. Throughout
her career she has been focused on establishing strong collaborative
relationships between the public library and other community organizations. She is currently a member of the Library
Service to the Underserved Children and their Caregivers Committee. She
is a 2017Library Journal Mover and Shaker. In her free time she entertains her husband and four kids.