Monday, March 4, 2013

House members move to recognize today’s digital literacy divide

House members move to recognize today’s digital literacy divide

Yesterday, Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) along with six of their colleagues introduced a resolution (H. Res. 81) designating March 21 as National Digital Literacy Day. March 21 is also the launch of a three year national Ad Council campaign “3.21 EveryoneOn” to promote the importance of digital literacy. ALA, along with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, has been actively engaged with this campaign to showcase the work libraries do with digital literacy on 3.21 and the other days of the year.

The Digital Literacy Day resolution recognizes the tremendous service public libraries and schools provide their communities with access to technology and the Internet, primarily through the E-rate program, which has supported these institutions with over $30 billion since the beginning of the program in 1997. It notes the dedication to promoting broadband use and adoption across the country by the investments in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the subsequent National Broadband Plan. Though these initiatives have resulted in positive outcomes in many of our communities, the resolution also notes we still have significant challenges before access – including the necessary infrastructure, technology, and skills – is within the reach of all people regardless of how rural their life may be, what their income level is, or their abilities.

Identifying digital literacy as the specific barrier for nearly one third of non-adopters (people who do not have broadband at home), Congressman Markey and his colleagues help raise this problem to the level of urgency it deserves. Without Internet access it’s nearly impossible to get a job. It’s extremely difficult to stay on top of a child’s homework assignments or for the child to finish a school project. It’s virtually impossible to apply for college financial aid and it’s a challenge to file your taxes without being able to go online.

Libraries – whether school, public, or academic – all have a vested interest in providing digital literacy programming for their patrons. From a library point of view, access to online information is a fundamental component of equitable access to information, a core library value. Whether learning from scratch, building beginning skills, or experimenting with the latest collaborative digital tool, libraries help patrons and students alike locate the best resources and help them navigate our online reality. Over the past two years, OITP has focused on promoting libraries as key partners in providing digital literacy support and programs. Its Digital Literacy Task Force prepared a report that gives an overview of digital literacy in the context of school, public, and academic libraries. A set of recommendations on future digital literacy initiatives and building library capacity in this area is forthcoming.

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