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About the Book

   Official Blurb

Millions of Americans--35 percent of adults--live without broadband access at home. Perhaps more surprising, as of late 2009, 22 percent of adults still did not use the Internet at all. New government initiatives and services mean that Internet access and understanding is no longer an optional skill. How can libraries help close the gap?

Teaching novice computer users, including seniors and individuals with disabilities, how to do what they want and need to do online is a formidable challenge for library staff. Part inspirational, part practical, Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide is a summary of techniques, approaches, and skills that will help librarians meet this challenge.

Jessamyn West's experience as a librarian, deeply immersed in technology culture yet living in rural America, makes her uniquely qualified to write this book. Taking a big-picture approach to the subject, she demystifies and simplifies tech training for the busy librarian, providing an easy-to-use handbook full of techniques that can be used with a library's many diverse populations. As an added bonus, she also examines the players in the library technology arena to offer firsthand reports on what works, what doesn't, and what's next.

  Additional Information

Writing this book was a multi-year exercise in research, organization and patience. I wrote a bit about the experience for the blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I got my copy of the book on May 19, 2011 and it's been enjoying a modest success since then including a starred review from Library Journal.

About Jessamyn West

My name is Jessamyn West and I've been teaching people to use computers since I went to library school at the University of Washington in 1993. I live in Central Vermont and I've been doing basic technology instruction here for six years. I also work at the local library. It seemed unfair to me that there were plenty of programs in place for basic literacy for adults who don't know how to read, but precious few for technologically illiterate adults. Living in an area of the country where many people don't have internet access at home and don't have personal computers makes me realize just how pressing the need is for librarians and other institutions to step up and take on this task.

As more and more functions in our daily life require not just internet access but technological understanding, we're doing a poor job with the social safety net if we don't have a societal mechanism to help people learn and refine these skills. Libraries are one of the few places that offer free access to technology and, sometimes, technology instruction. I wrote this book to help them.

I have a more extensive author page at jessamyn.info, a personal site at jessamyn.com and my main professional site is here at librarian.net.

Handouts & Presentations

The book gives this URL for more information. I've broken it down into a few categories. For the official bibliography and webliography for the book, please see those sections.

  Handouts you can use

These are the handouts I have used in many basic skills classes. Obviously you'd need to repurpose them to suit your situation, but it probably beats reinventing the wheel. Links go to zipped sets of documents, you can browse the directory for individual files.

  Presentations I've given

I've done a number of different presentations about small and rural libraries and the digital divide generally. While you can find links to all of them on librarian.net's talks page, here are a few that are particularly worth noting.

Related Websites & Appendix

The book has a fairly extensive list of web resources that I think people will find useful. The web addresses are all printed out which makes them not super useful for people online. Here is an amended list of the book's list of resources. This list is not intended to be comprehensive and by the time this is in print it may not even be accurate, but it's a carefully curated list of things that I think will be helpful to you most of which I use regularly in my work.

The small libraries I worked with in Vermont

IRS Advancing E-file Study
Falling Through The Net: Toward Digital Inclusion: A Report on Americans' Access to Technology Tools (2000, pdf)
Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study (2008-2009)
Broadband in the Mississippi Delta: A 21st Century Racial Justice issue by the Center for Social Inclusion (2010)
FCC Broadband Study (2009, pdf)
Pew internet Life Home Broadband Survey (2009, 2008 & 2005)
U.S. IMPACT Public Library Study
Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan (2010)
Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievements (pdf)
IMLS Report - Public Libraries in the United States (2007)
New York City Broadband Landscape and Recommendations (2008, pdf)
file not available online, click for local cache
Closing the Broadband Divide (2007)
The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change (pdf)
State of America's Libraries Report (2009 & 2010)

Introduction to Web Accessibility
Designing More Usable Web Sites
The Center on Human Policy
Universal Access: Making Library Resources Accessible to People with Disabilities
ASCLA "Library Accessibility -What You Need to Know" tipsheets
Check your site for accessibility
Accessibility at Microsoft
Accessibility at Apple
Ubuntu Accessibility
Usability.gov's Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines (pdf)
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Keyboard shortcuts for Windows
Mac OSX keyboard shortcuts

Internet for Everyone
ALA's Poor People's Policy
Click here and spare your eyes this ghastly URL
Greening Your Library

Quick & Dirty User Testing
Library Usability Testing on the Cheap
UseIt.com - Jakob Nielsen on Usability and Web Design

How to help someone use a computer
Tips for Teaching Older Adults to use Computers (pdf)
ACRL Multilingual Instruction Glossary
Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science
Wikimedia Commons
Library Success Wiki
How to use the web for topic search tutorials

I want a Firefox extension to...
Firefox Help
Google Chrome Help
Internet Explorer Help
Safari Help

Open Source Alternatives
Free and Open Source Software Directory
Free Software Foundation
Open Source Initiative

Library Social Software Policies
Academic Library Privacy Statements
Another bad ALA URL here.

Browser Security Comparison
Hijack This
HijackThis logfile analyzer
Snopes Rumor Debunking
Wired Safety


The appendix materials are some slightly edited reprints of material freely available online. In the interests of space, I'll link to them rather than copy/pasting them. Some materials I wanted to include are copyrighted and I don't have permission to reproduce them here, notably Phil Agre's How to help someone use a computer, which could almost be a three page pamphlet replacement for this entire book. The other documents are
  1. Aspects of Computer Literacy list from Wikipedia
  2. Usability.govs Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines
    Also listed in the webliography. This is a nearly 300 page book, a free download. It was created, in the authors' own words "To provide quantified, peer-reviewed Web site design guidelines." All the guidelines are presented with scores for "relative importance" (i.e. how important the issue is related to other usability issues, with the awareness that often tough choices much be made) and "strength of evidence" which is how supported by research the guidelines are. Since the document is a government publication, it is in the public domain. I encourage people to download and read the entire publication or just keep it handy.
  3. Trust-Inducing Features of Graphic Design
    Also on Usability.gov is this article by Susanne Furman, a usability engineer with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services about how to design web content to induce trust. This is of large concern to DHHS and it should also be something that we as librarians think about. Furman cites an article in Computers and Human Behavior by Y.D. Yang and H.H. Emurian where they outline a framework for what they call "trust-inducing features." I think these are important considerations to keep in mind when designing digital content for libraries. Read these and think of your library's website, or think about the websites of vendors who you do business with. How trust-inducing is the digital content?


Here is a short annotated list of books you can buy for your library and publishers that you should consider.
The seniors guide to PC basics by Gateway Press (2003).
Large print and sensible, I liked this one. Slightly out of date, but fine for basic vocabulary and concepts.
Easy iMac: see it done, do it yourself by Lisa Lee, Prentice Hall (1999).
Another older book with good pictures and general Mac concepts. A good part of a larger tech collection.
Teach yourself visually computers by Paul McFedries, Visual (2007).
More nuts and bolts than most people want, but very picture-oriented with a lot of good explanations about what things are doing. Some people love/require this, some don't.
How Computers Work by Ron White, Que (2007).
Same deal, a very picture oriented book with good explanations.
Is this thing on? by Abby Stokes, Workman Publishing Company (2008) .
Comes recommended with delightful companion website.
The first week with my new iMac by Pam Lessing, Capital Books (2000).
This book is very friendly and chatty and I keep hoping there will be an updated version published. Contains a good overview, there is one for PCs as well.
- Dummies guides for the low tech approach
- O'Reilly books for the higher tech approach.
- Visual Steps books are very popular in libraries

No amount of reading material will be useful to staff if they don't pick it up. There is, I believe, a surplus of writing on library and technology. While most of it is good, care should be taken to have a decent but manageable professional development collection that is engaging to read and does not simply duplicate online information. Here are some suggestions of books that I have actually read.
  • Accidental Systems Librarian by Rachel Singer Gordon, Information Today, Inc. (2003).
  • Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments by Joseph J. Lazzaro, American Library Association (2001).
  • Designing the Digital Experience by David Lee King, CyberAge Books (2008).
  • Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service by Michael E. Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk, Information Today, Inc. (2007).
  • Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators by Char Booth, American Library Association (2010).
  • Social Software in Libraries by Meredith G Farkas, Information Today, Inc. (2007).
  • Teaching Web Search Skills: Techniques and Strategies of Top Trainers by Greg R. Notess, Information Today, Inc. (2006).
  • Technology Training in Libraries by Sarah Houghton-Jan, Neal-Schuman (2010).
  • "Technophobia, Technostress, and Technorealism" in Information Tomorrow by Rachel Singer Gordon, Information Today, Inc. (2007).
  • Time Management For System Administrators by Tom Limoncelli, O'Reilly Media (2005).

It can be tough to find good books about design philosophy that aren't also just architecture porn. Designing with access in mind can still result in functional and attractive outcomes. A few suggested titles that approach their topics with dignity.
  • Access by Design by George Covington, Van Nostrand Reinhold (1996).
  • Beautiful Barrier Free by Cynthia Leibrock, John Wiley & Sons Inc. (1992).
  • Design for Dignity: Studies in Accessibility by William Lebovich. John Wiley & Sons (1993).
  • Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug, New Riders Press (2005).
  • In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson, Harper Perennial (1999).
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere, Continuum (1999).
  • The Measure of Man & Woman: Human Factors in Design by Alvin R. Tilley, Wiley (2001).
  • Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart by Mark Eberhart, Harmony (2003).

Frequently Asked Questions

  Where did the cover image come from?

The cover image was created using a WPA poster that was originally done by Lester Beall. Since it was created for the Rural Electrification Administration, the image is in the public domain. ABC-CLIO modified it for the current cover.

  How did you start this project?

I've always been interested in accessibility and usability issues. I spend a lot of my time teaching novice users how to use technology and have been doing this for fifteen years. When Barbara Ittner of Libraries Unlimited contacted me and asked if I had a book idea, this one was obvious. You can read a little more about the process in this article I wrote in February 2011.

  Who did your website?

I did it myself using the simple one-pager that INFLUX created. I made a few adjustments.

  Do you have sample chapters online?

I don't, but I have made the index available online, with permission of my indexer. Feel free to take a look at it.

  Will you come speak to our group about the digital divide?

I love doing public speaking and if time allows I'd be happy to do this. Please email or call me to discuss details. You are welcome to look at my talks page to see some of the other presentations I've done about the digital divide.

  Where should I go if I have other questions?

Librarian.net and jessamyn.com both have their own FAQ pages that are relevant to the content on those sites. You are also more than welcome to contact me using any of the methods in the contact me section below.

Contact Me

Phone: 802.234.8910

Email: jessamyn@gmail.com

AIM: iamthebestartist

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Purchase Without a Net

My book is available for purchase from the usual places while supplies last. It is also available for free as a digital file thanks to an UnglueIt campaign.

I suggest supporting independent bookstores, click here to purchase it via an independent bookstore. Amazon is the usual standby and you can let them know if you'd like a Kindle version. These people have the cheapest copies I've seen and they ship worldwide.

Check WorldCat to see if it's in your local library (for some meanings of local). If not, consider requesting it.
Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide
written by Jessamyn West and published by ABC-CLIO's Libraries Unlimited imprint.
Unglued and available via Creative Commons license as of Feb 2, 2018
ISBN-10: 1598844539
ISBN-13: 978-1598844535