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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


"Your computers are their only computer"

In her first presentation of the day, The Information Poor and the Information Don't Care: Small Libraries and the Digital Divide, Jessamyn starts out talking about just what the "Digital Divide" means in Vermont. There simply isn't access to broadband; she floats a factoid that only 56% of the Verizon lines in the state can support high speed. So yeah: some people just can't get high speed Internet access; some people don't want it or don't think they need it. But there is, as we know, an information access issue: how are these people supposed to access e-government services?

She reminds us that the library's computers are the only computers some people have. The decisions we make about the computers profoundly affect patrons' information lives. Her message?
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.
You can't make them want to use computers, but you can explain why it might be a good idea. Your attitude can't be that you're The Gatekeeper: "Don't do this on our computers." Understand instead that this is their only computer.

I liked her advice that we should remember what we went through -- learning to understand what email was, and how to navigate new electronic databases and changing interfaces. Those experiences are good to draw on when we're helping them.

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