I was thinking yesterday about the digital divide. According to Wikipedia, the digital divide
refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society to information and communication technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills. The term is closely related to the knowledge divide as the lack of technology causes lack of useful information and knowledge. The digital divide may be classified based on gender, income, and race groups, and by locations.
I realized that the digital divide applies to librarians as well as library patrons. School librarians (those in K-12 institutions) usually have very strict filters installed that prevent them from accessing various social networking and Web 2.o sites. Many public librarians also have filters (of varying strengths) that block access. Public librarians, however, often have the capability of overriding the filters to access certain sites. Academic librarians generally have no filters at all. This spectrum of access causes a disconnect (even more so than existed previously) between school, public and academic librarians.
As an academic librarian who is working on an outreach program to our local school librarians, I am faced with this spectrum regularly. Even if the school librarians would like to learn about and use social networking and Web 2.0 tools in their schools, they are not allowed to. So they must learn about them on their own time, and in their own homes. This hardly seems fair, since the school librarians I know already go above and beyond for their students. I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done about this, but with the growing push towards making libraries more user-friendly and present on social networks, this is going to be a bigger dilemma.
This digital divide is also preventing school librarians from being able to network and access professional resources that are not available through traditional channels. One of my most valuable professional networks is composed entirely of people that I have met almost exclusively online. Since starting that network, I have met some of them in person, but many of the librarians around the country that I talk to every day, I’ve never met in person. But these are the people that are my water cooler buddies at work. By not allowing school librarians access to these kinds of networks at their workplace, we are severely hampering their ability to grow and become even better librarians.