Shava Nerad
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Anne McFarland
Jamie McClelland
Phil Shapiro
Shava Nerad

Libraries and the Analog Divide
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The "Weblinks" project at the Flint Public Library (above), courtesy of Leslie Acevedo; Access Fort Wayne (right), courtesy Erik Mollberg and LFF.
Shava Nerad

In building the bridge that crosses the Digital Divide, let us remember the history of bridging our country's "analog divide" -- the development of the public library system.

Shava Nerad is developing  a support network for individuals and agencies working on every aspect of bridging the American digital divide. She serves as vice president of the board of Oregon Public Networking.
In 1871, when Andrew Carnegie funded the first of over 1000 Carnegie Libraries, there were something more than 250 public libraries in the United States -- and only a couple thousand public libraries in the world. The young immigrant Carnegie's life had been transformed when a mentor opened his private library to the ambitious youth. Carnegie, the self-made man, determined to give other motivated Americans the same chance.

Carnegie did not believe that funding libraries was charity, but philanthropy. Libraries only help those who are self-starters, not the "hopeless" poor. He insisted that his applicants be self-directed -- elaborate planning, coalition building, and some resource matching were required of any community applying for a Carnegie Library grant.

The 19th century public library was as novel as the public computer lab today.

Carnegie was one of the richest men in modern history. The year he made his first library grant, his income was about $30M -- an unimaginable sum even in an age of robber baron industrialists. Today, his successor in many respects is Bill Gates. A self-made entrepreneur who dropped out of Harvard, Gates has built a vision into a colossus of modern industry. Gates is also putting his money into philanthropy, and, through the Gates Library Foundation, is targetting the same institution, helping it to provide self-development skills with modern tools of empowerment.

Access to the Internet is not as simple as a plug in the wall -- a model that has challenged many e-rate recipients. For Americans to have effective equal access to information, in inner cities and rural areas, library and school access will not suffice to build information literacy, particularly in the adult community and for children who do not stay for after-school programs and voluntarily go elsewhere. In urban areas, community technology centers (CTCs), educational extension services, and community networks can provide neighborhood-oriented training and access for those who may not have computers in the home or, if they do, wish to learn how to take fuller advantage of them.

In rural communities, where the nearest school or library lab may be an hour or more away -- especially in our western states -- publicly-supported dial-in, if not high-speed broadband access for young families, shut-ins, and people with disabilities who can't access computer labs during open hours is essential. Programs which receive older computers from business and government and refurbish and redistribute them to households and nonprofits in need -- such as the equipment lending library at Oregon Public Networking -- can provide training and facilitate home access.

Community-tailored information literacy education programs, oriented to the local culture, with instructors drawn from the community, are vital to the effectiveness and general acceptance of these new technologies (and vice versa).

Information literacy encompasses those skills of reading, research (including browsing/searching), computer/network literacy, information organization (data analysis, expository writing), and critical thinking.

These skills are vital to both the development of the US workforce, and the individual's understanding of our increasingly complex and interdependent culture. Our society, and our citizenry, thrive on information -- science, innovation, public policy, job skills. We must insure equal opportunity and access, to develop our best minds, for our best future.