The Shifted Librarian -

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* Thursday, November 3, 2005

So Many Digital Divides to Bridge, So Little Time (and Resources and Money and Staff and....)

Digital Divide Multiplied

“One thing that did occur to me yesterday, that I think is important, is the nature of our digital divide. There are lots of digital divides, each with its own seeds for danger. What I was thinking about was the digital divide between tech-savvy students and students with little or no access to networked digital information outside the classroom — and to some extent, the digital divide between tech-savvy students and less-savvy teachers.

The literacy divide of the 20th century distinguished between people who could functionally read and those who could not. Democracy was certainly at stake, but to no small degree, so was commerce. The literate could consume the messages of content producers.

Today, the divide has multiplied, because people with contemporary (digital/21st century) literacy skills not only consume content, but they are the content. Being literate means being part of the network. The difference is not merely the individual who can read and individual who can not. It’s the difference between networked communities of power, and individuals who are cut off. This is a distinction too broad to ignore or postpone.

Consider IM Speak, the abbreviations that students use in their instant message conversations. It is, in no small way, a new grammar, and these students invented it spontaneously in collaboration. The industrial literacy way would have been to assign a standards committee to establish a new grammar, and then spend years teaching it in our classrooms. We should be amazed and in awe of this accomplishment. It happened not because these kids were digitally literate, but because being digitally literate meant being part of a network — a community of power.

Where is our community of power?” [2 Cents Worth]

David Warlick posted these thoughts in regards to education, but I think they’re very relevant for librarians, too. After all, we’re supposed to be the safety net for the digital divide(s), right, whether it’s access or information literacy? I’m becoming more and more convinced that libraries will have to find a way to help fill the coming divide of content-creators (those who think of themselves as creators with the skills necessary to actually create) versus strictly consumers (the old model in which the person simply ingests everything as one-way media and doesn’t participate in these new networks and resources because they can’t or didn’t even know they could). On the one side, you have great models like Lane and Matthew, but on the other side you have millions of kids I can’t even point to because they’re left out of this community.

One model to combat this: Bloomington Public Library.

Side note: check out this other great post by David: Something from my Research, which includes the following statement in the comments (read the post for context):

“I liked these rules because they were worded for the learner, not against undesired behaviors. They grant students the right to learn, rather than defining a container within which to behave like students.”

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