Study of Libraries in pandemic indicate need to focus on home internet access

New America released a report on libraries and COVID. I’m sure no readers will be surprised, but it turns out that the pandemic highlighted disparities between folks who could get online at home and those who couldn’t…

The pandemic has laid bare the extent of social and educational disparities by racial group, income, and education level. It has particularly affected those without high-speed home internet access, a group in which people of color, low-income Americans, and rural communities are over-represented. These disparities are the legacies of systems that were not built with everyone’s welfare in mind—such as library systems that were originally segregated and educational systems and technology networks designed by and for those able to afford and connect to the internet. The disparities are affecting the way people become aware of, connect to, and use their public libraries, and they need to be addressed head-on by libraries, education leaders, and policymakers both during and after the pandemic.

Our findings highlight the need for more inclusivity, more focus on providing internet access, and more awareness-raising initiatives with local organizations and schools. The stories in this report—of libraries developing mobile Wi-Fi options, creating digital navigator programs to support digital literacy, launching more online programs, and making use of outdoor spaces—show the possibilities of transformation and partnership. The report concludes with eight recommendations for investment in library transformations, expansion of policies such as E-Rate and the Emergency Broadband Benefit to provide better internet access at home, and more collaboration with local schools and organizations. With these changes, libraries can leverage the lessons of the pandemic to help launch more equitable ecosystems of learning across communities, providing access to knowledge, resources, and training, online and off.

The prevalence of broadband in the recommendations highlights the importance of broadband…

For policymakers:

  • Invest in efforts by libraries and schools to bring internet access, online resources, and other tools to underserved households and communities.
    • Expand the E-Rate Program so that libraries and schools can get discounts on the technology services that patrons and students need to get online from home.
    • Support schools, libraries, and community-based organizations in distributing devices such as tablets, laptops, and hotspots.
  • Improve broadband access to low-income households.
    • Make the new $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit permanent and integrate it into the Lifeline program.
    • Require internet service providers to be more transparent about internet costs and hidden fees.
    • Enable municipalities to provide internet service.
  • Encourage collaboration by developing grant programs and other incentives for community-based organizations, libraries, and schools to work together in raising awareness and jointly delivering library services.
  • Provide funding for the expansion of tech-support programs such as Digital Navigators and other programs that enable on-demand, one-on-one troubleshooting, mentorship, and guidance.
  • Provide funding for needs assessments and other research to take stock of how public libraries are used within communities that are marginalized or underserved.

For libraries:

  • Increase outreach and communications efforts to make more residents aware of offerings both online and off.
    • Target outreach so that low-income households; Black, Hispanic, and Asian households; and patrons whose first language is not English are welcomed and connected to the library.
    • Experiment with mobile offerings that bring the library to underserved communities.
    • Establish Digital Navigator programs and similar mentoring initiatives that help patrons build technological fluency, digital literacy, and media literacy skills.

For educators and leaders of community-based organizations:

  • Develop deeper partnerships with libraries to build awareness of resources for clients and students.

  • Include library leaders in strategic planning for programs and services.

This entry was posted in education, Research and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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