Access to technology is crucial to a child’s success in today’s digital world. But what about families who do not have access or families who cannot afford to purchase the latest smartphone, tablet, or tech toy?
What does the research say?
While today’s families seem digitally connected, here are some interesting statistics:
- Digital Divide reports lack of access to technology at home is a major barrier for more than half of teachers. As a result, they are less likely to introduce tech in their classrooms.
- The National Center for Education Statistics found a student’s access to digital resources at home greatly impacts academic and literacy scores. On average, those without access scored at least 8% lower in core subjects. Even more, their literacy scores were more than 20% lower than students with access.
- The Pew Research Center notes more than 25% of low-income households do not have a smartphone. Nearly 50% do not have a computer, and even more do not own a tablet. In contrast, more than half of higher income families have more than one device.
- Research by Digital Equity for Learning estimates at least 20% of mobile-only families have too many people sharing the same device. As a result, there is not enough access for everyone.
How can libraries help?
Libraries connect families of all ages, incomes, and abilities with a variety of tech experiences. Often, we provide free access to these services. We know both children and adults benefit from shared learning, so how can libraries support families in developing tech skills? One option is providing circulating tech.
Developing policies and procedures, and also deciding what tech to circulate, can be challenging. But, there are many benefits. Giving more families access to tech experiences helps bridge the digital divide, while also helping children build necessary skills. Circulating technology:
- Gives families freedom to explore in a comfortable, nonjudgmental environment – their own home. As a result, families are more open to learning.
- Lets families customize experiences to their interests and needs. No WiFi? No problem. Library staff help match products and services to each family’s situation.
- Encourages families to learn together by sharing skills and building relationships. Taking tech into homes fosters intergenerational engagement and a shared spirit of discovery.
- Supplements individual work and school experiences. Meanwhile, the entire family builds skills and teaches each other.
- Prompts greater interaction with the library. New ideas, concepts, and experiences all supplement our collections and services.
What are we doing?
Circulating tech should be responsive to your community’s needs and interests. Here are some ways my library provides access to tech on the go:
Pairs print and audio formats.
Collections like the Playaway Bookpack package print and audio materials together, while the new Wonderbook provides a self-contained audio and print experience. Both support print and digital literacy. Meanwhile, we direct families to books in different formats with reader’s advisory and services like Kanopy and OverDrive.
Adds a digital component to supplement learning.
Bilingual Backpacks include several language learning resources. Along with books and flashcards, the Backpacks also include DVDs or tablets with language learning tools. Families intentionally interact with technology, learning new skills that are immediately applicable.
Provides prepackaged options.
Products like the Launchpad offer pre-loaded content for multiple ages. Families learn about tablets and game play, but do not have to worry about internet access or downloads. In the library, we support digital literacy with iPads, a SMART table, programming, and recommendations for free educational apps.
Circulates tech in hands-on kits.
STEAM Kits are available for all ages, from preschool to adult. Each kit focuses on a science, technology, engineering, arts, or math concept. Inside each are books, manipulatives, and exploration activities. Our tech ranges from kid-friendly Code-A-Pillars to more advanced devices like the Raspberry Pi. Kits also feature instructions and suggestions to help families get started. Families can experiment with the latest tech toy without purchasing it.
How do you provide access to technology outside the library? What ideas do you want to learn more about?
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group; II. Reference and User Services; and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.
Jaime Eastman is a Senior Public Services Librarian and the Family Place Coordinator at Harrington Library, one of the Plano Public Libraries. She currently serves as the chair of the Children and Technology Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos courtesy of Plano Public Library.