Public libraries and 21st century digital equity goals

Coverage Type: 

Public libraries have historically positioned themselves as pillars of information and inclusion in society. Free, available to all, with materials in multiple languages and formats, libraries are possibly the most inclusive public institution. However, as more materials migrate to the internet, and as preferences for how people access information and how culture changes, libraries are challenged to also incorporate the internet and new information-seeking behaviours into their operations and philosophy. To examine libraries’ roles in expanding internet access and digital literacy, we discuss the ways that libraries expanded their repertoire and how they approach remediating local digital divides in a North American context, focusing specifically on results associated with their loaning of hotspot devices. We investigate the decisions and controversies across different digital information strategies, and examine the library’s emerging role in digital divide efforts.

 Our results suggest that hotspot programmes may have important roles for the constituencies lacking reliable access and the opportunity to spend more time learning the skills useful to navigating and exploiting the internet. The hotspot programmes’ core contribution, however, alters how we might think about libraries’ role in supporting and enabling lively public spheres. There may be missed opportunities for library hotspot programmes around cultivating better use of the libraries’ electronic resources. Nonetheless, the contribution that hotspots from the New York libraries made to the abilities of lower income populations in the NYPL and BPL programmes to access and manoeuvre key and essential services, to obtain information genuinely useful to them, and to ameliorate travel difficulties among older populations, is undeniable and an important component of creating conditions for digital inclusion.


Public libraries and 21st century digital equity goals