streamlined digital divide talk – 12 minutes

A few weekends ago I gave a talk at the KU Diversity Summit, an online conference that took place virtually, but also physically at the Kansas University School of Journalism in Lawrence Kansas. As you know, I have a soft spot for Kansas. As you may or may not know, I usually don’t do online conferences because I have a hard time dealing with the technical and social snafus that usually accompany them. I like to give talks, not be told I have to install Windows-only software or register for a site with sketchy privacy policies just to interact with listeners. I know other people can deal with this stuff gracefully and I happily recommend them when I’m saying “Thanks but no thanks” to people. I may be getting a little cranky in my old age, but I’m also just interested in giving higher quality talks less frequently. This is a goal for 2012.

Anyhow, the team from KU charmed me and assured me the tech issues would be minimal; I could do everything over Skype, have slides or not have slides and they’d field questions from the live audience and from Twitter. It went well. They had a tight schedule so asked me if ten minutes was okay. I said “Fifteen?” As it was I managed to do it in about twelve. The full video, all five hours of the conference, is available online here, but I’ve trimmed out the part that I did, short talk, short Q&A session afterwards and links to more information are at librarian.net/talks/ku. It think it’s a pretty concise summary of the major digital divide issues that I think are facing people and libraries.

National Library Week in my neighborhood

For National Library Week (or coincidentally) my local library, Bethel Library, got a computer, broadband access, and wireless. I know this because I read about it in the newspaper. This is a nearly linkless post because both the library and the newspaper aren’t quite online yet. I haven’t been there to check it out yet because the library is only open fifteen hours a week. I’m looking forward to it.

PACs in Vermont, a look at rural connectivity by the numbers

TechnoBiblio asks a question that I’ve also wondered: what’s a good PAC to patron ratio? However, he doesn’t just sort of idly ponder the question, he goes and looks it up and sees what some states are recommending. Our DoL minimum standards for public libraries are online here (pdf, please note the gopher_root in the URL). The minimum standards include these line items: “Has a computer for [staff] access to the Vermont Automated Libraries System (VALS).” and “Offers some free public access to VALS and the Internet.” I can tell you exactly what the libraries near me have, and what populations they serve.

  • Kimball Library, Randolph – serves 6,000 people, five PACs, high speed, wifi
  • Tunbridge Library, Tunbridge – serves 1300 people, two PACs +1, dial-up
  • Baxter Library, Sharon – serves 1400 people, +1, dial-up
  • Roxbury Library, Roxbury – serves 576, 1 PAC, dial-up
  • Ainsworth Library, Williamstown – serves 3200 people, 1 PAC +1, high speed
  • Calef Library, Washington – serves 1000 people, 1 PAC + 1, high speed, wifi

There are 190 public libraries (pdf) in Vermont. Thirty-two serve populations over 5,000. Between all the libraries, they owned 1,122 computers at the end of 2004, according to their 2005 Biennial Roundup (pdf). Out of these 781 were available to the public as of 2005 (pdf). My “+1″ indicator above means that there is a staff computer in the library frequently used by the public; I’m not sure if this is reflected in these stats. 159 of these 781 computers had public Internet access, 130 had high-speed access. This access to computers and fast internet is not distributed evenly. The last library I worked at had eleven of these public computers with high speed access and I’m sure the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington has this many as well.

According to the DoLs Biennial Report Supplment, the 32 libraries that serve over 5,000 people, have 341 public PCs. Also according to this report, these 32 libraries get 60% of all visits to Vermont public libraries. Contrast this to the 40 libraries in Vermont who serve populations of under 1000. They have 50 public PCs total among all of them. Eleven of these libraries offer high-speed access. Many of the libraries did not report their statistics so there is some skewing, but seven of the libraries who serve less than 1000 people have no Internet access at all, and 14 have dial-up.

The total operating income for all public libraries in the state of Vermont is $16,524,383 of which $10,914,150 is spent on salaries and benefits.