Bridging the digital divide – The McGill Daily

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing barriers to digital literacy, with access to the internet and expensive technologies becoming more important than ever as the pandemic unfolded. People without access to technology, a reliable Internet connection and digital literacy training are inevitably disadvantaged in a world structured around online activity and technological access, where the Internet is an essential tool for acquiring and exchange the necessary information. Public libraries are important community resources, bridging the digital divide by making needed technology more widely available. Libraries provide a wide variety of technological resources: color printers, large format printers, 3D printers, copiers, fax machines, scanners, laptops, tablets, video game consoles, VR headsets, early learning devices, e-readers and technology. assistance, among others. At BAnQ Grande Bibliothèque, the largest library in Quebec, 532,430 people access the Internet every day, according to a 2018 survey, or about 580 per floor each day.

In 2020, the Public Library Association (PLA) surveyed the technological capacity, infrastructure, budget, and staff of public libraries in the United States to get a better idea of ​​the library’s role in digital equity. – a “launching pad for […] explore technological applications, services and devices. Their survey of public library technology found that 32.6% of public libraries offer Internet hotspots for lending, over 88% offer formal or informal digital literacy programs, and 36.7% have staff. dedicated to digital literacy and technology programs. Digital literacy training ranges from one-on-one help with general computer skills and internet use to coding and website development courses. In addition, libraries have an important role to play in providing access to employment resources, online health resources and online language learning. However, the survey found significant resource disparities between urban, rural and suburban libraries – disparities include bandwidth capacity, the scope of available technology, and staff.

PLA survey The American Library Association (ALA) defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, assess, create and communicate information, requiring cognitive and technical skills”.

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) conducted a similar survey of libraries in the territory known as Ontario in 2016. TPL wrote that “digital inclusion is now an integral part of the Toronto Public Library’s mandate. , a [TPL is] aiming to grow stronger over the next five years, although they have been providing access for almost as long as there are publicly available computers. 56 percent of survey respondents who would not have had access to the technology otherwise used the technology at the library, and 36 percent of respondents who used technology services related to workforce development. did to develop job search skills. The survey found that broadband and connectivity issues are most disparate in rural areas and / or for low-income populations, and particularly for First Nations communities.

The First Nations Technology Council, a North Vancouver-based nonprofit, reports that only 25 percent of Indigenous communities in British Columbia meet the minimum 50 Mbps high-speed broadband standard for downloading and uploading. 10 mbps. The Royal Bank of Canada records similar statistics nationally, indicating that only 24 percent of households in Indigenous communities in Canada have access to high-speed, quality Internet. Over 500 First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada also do not have access to a public library – of Ontario’s 133 First Nations communities, only 46 have public libraries. The libraries in the communities that have access to them lack resources and are limited by a low budget. Unlike other libraries in Ontario, libraries in First Nations communities are not funded by tax revenues – rather, library funds are taken from those allocated to education “on reserve” and are distributed by the ministry. Provincial Tourism, Culture and Sports to existing libraries. Ontario region “on reserve” education receives more than 30 percent less funding than that designated for “off reserve” education. In 2017, the National Reading Campaign submitted a request for federal funding to the Ministry of Finance to “establish and improve libraries in Indigenous communities” – the call was for “a fund of $ 90 million over three years to build libraries and additional fund (approximately $ 6 million / year) for operational costs. The request was made against the backdrop of the Trudeau government’s supposed $ 1.2 billion commitment to invest in social infrastructure in First Nations, Inuit and Northern communities – the plan outlined in Chapter 3 of the 2016 budget, and expanded to $ 18 billion in the 2021 budget. Request submitted that the Department of Finance should support the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in “an initial three-year commitment […] build 10 libraries per year ”, a“ goal ”that would“ create 30 libraries and therefore 15% more of indigenous communities would have access to a public library ”, which would mean access to digital training and opportunities employment.

The PLA investigation reported that when libraries were forced to close due to the pandemic, “many boosted their Wi-FI signals” and made the technology available for loan. Likewise, TPL launched its WiFi On Wheels program which “offers[ed] Free WiFi from their bookmobile in the parks of neighborhoods hard hit by the virus. Choosing to go to school or work online is not an option without access to the internet at home, and this service is therefore essential for many people at risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Library technology services are essential for indigenous, poor and rural communities. Therefore, libraries and digital equity initiatives should be developed within these communities. Initiatives such as the YOUmedia Lab at the Chicago Public Library, a learning space for teens to engage in graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D / 3D design, and STEM.

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