In June, the Library Development branch of the State Library of Arizona spent a Friday morning thinking about digital inclusion and library services. The goals of this workshop were to work towards an understanding of digital inclusion and the role of library services, to share information about what digital inclusion looks like “in action” from other State Libraries and CBOs, and to collaborate on a Digital Inclusion Statement draft for the department.
Some highlights from our discussion included:
- As community anchor institutions, libraries have long been engaged in meaningful digital inclusion activities even before the shared vocabulary existed. From the individual branch library to national information professional associations, our work provides access to and supports use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The critical services that libraries provide for the digitally excluded– such as offering public access computing centers, free Internet access, and digital skills training classes–are aligned with the aims of digital inclusion.
- Digital inclusion is inherent in 21st century library services and underpins our institutional goals. Robust broadband and the availability of Internet-enabled devices are integral to improving the quality of and access to library and information services, particularly in a time where more resources are being served digitally. Digital skills are a prerequisite to accessing and using online information, so our patrons must have the capacity to effectively meet their information needs. The current and emerging library workforce must understand broadband and digital technologies to deliver effective library services. Finally, library programming which targets underserved communities requires identifying the historical, institutional, and structural barriers which perpetuate the digital divide.
- The Library Development branch plays a meta role of the helpers’ helper. The department mission is to “empower Arizona libraries to offer excellent customer service through consultation, grant funding, resources, and training.” Our discussion always circled back to the need to support local librarians become broadband advocates within their communities. Some potential actions that the department can do to address these issues are to incorporate digital inclusion themes into continuing education programming for library staff, to work with libraries to improve broadband capacity, and to promote E-Rate to tribal and rural libraries not currently participating.