The Information Poor

& the Information Don't Care

Small Libraries and the Digital Divide

Jessamyn West


The Digital Divide Contains Multitudes

People don't use computers for many reasons, we have the information poor and the information don't care in Vermont.
informational table

source: Vermont Telecommunications plan

Who Are These People?

Yes, that line near the bottom says "never heard of."
[informational table]

source: Vermont Telecommunications plan

And Where Do They Live?

source: Vermont Telecommunications plan

And It's Not Just Vermont

The Pew Digital Divisions survey splits users into three loose categories: source: Pew Digital Divisions report

What do we know about the "truly disconnected"?

The question was "Do you use the Internet at least occasionally" and "Do you send or receive email at least occasionally?"
source: Pew Digital Divisions report

What else do we know about the "truly disconnected"?

We don't see some of these same division with cell phone usage. Why?
source: Pew Digital Divisions report

A Few Anecdotes

How was life at the 3rd largest library in the state? Who do we have for leaders?
DoL, Microsoft, local wifi initiatives, education folks?

How is this Political?

I work for the public. I can make choices for the public. I can use public resources to address various sociopolitical concerns, if I decide to. Such as... What about less obvious examples? it's all about choices, and choosing FOR one thing often means choosing AGAINST something else.... like the internet being the world's biggest library.... overt rules and decisions often create unforseen and unintended consequences. I'll talk about a few of them

Choices & Unintended Consequences

When you are in a small community of truly disconnected folks, the decisions you make for the library computing environment are the decisions you make for their computer use, and their computer understanding.
relationship map

Watch what the vendor says & know what to ask them. professional ethics, you have divergent goals So? careful planning, current awareness of new technologies & NETWORKING. Learn the vocab so you can speak effectively to vendors: XML, blogs, RSS, APIs, &c.

Public Access Computing

choices & unintended consequences? So? Planning will ease the pain, but there will always be some bugs. Be bold, have mechanisms for feedback.

User Interface Design

choices & unintended consequences? So? customize it, open source systems [Koha] and in-house techs.

Filtering, USA PATRIOT

choices & unintended consequences? So? Peacefire, further reading, links about the US/CIPA situation, open source filtering

Laws: Copyright

choices & unintended consequences? So? How comfortable are you being a test case?

CreativeCommons, stay informed [ALIA example] and inform others, a pro-active response beats waiting for the knock on the door.


You cannot make people do what you want, and you cannot make them desire what you want them to desire.

You need to advocate for people without access or knowledge as their representative not the vendors' representative, and not as a visitor from the brave new techno-shiny world.

This means not just education, not just experience, but also patience and a lot of empathy.

"I don't know what it will be like to have books from our libraries injected into our culture again, but I'd like to see it"

« credits »

Jessamyn West is the editor of the weblog and the co-editor of Revolting Librarians Redux. She works as a community technology mentor with people and libraries in Central Vermont. Her latest writing about technology appears Searcher Magazine. Her latest writing about midget wrestling appears in Wikipedia. IM her at iamthebestartist.

This presentation was created in HTML using CSS. There was no PowerPoint involved in this presentation except as a nagging bad example. The layout and stylesheet are available to borrow via a share and share alike creative commons license. See source code for details.

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