A recent letter to the editor in Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the reasons that Minnesota seniors need special attention to close the digital equity gap…
Virtual as the new normal is now our reality. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of digital inclusion and literacy for all. Technology is considered an essential resource, a necessity for civic and cultural participation, lifelong learning and access to critical services, including shopping at Target.
As Pommer noted, there is an age-based digital divide within our state with older adults exhibiting lower access to the internet, fewer digital skills and more limited use of technology. To add to the problem, as 10,000 baby boomers retire daily from now until 2030 across the U.S., new retirees are realizing that there is no longer an IT department available to them. With rapid and continual changes in technology, ongoing adoption and assistive services are essential, regardless of age or where a person lives.
The downside is significant for seniors. The digital divide contributes to increased social isolation, severity of chronic diseases and an overall diminished quality of life. The problem is worse in rural areas than metro areas.
And it offers a solution…
Through policy developed through the University of Minnesota Project Reach Program, Minnesota’s public libraries are emerging as the IT department for retirees.
The Library Services and Technology Act of 1996 (LSTA) established a federal grant program to identify priorities centered on technology infrastructure. Under the leadership of the State Library Services, Minnesota’s library network of 356 public locations has historically provided community-based digital device and training resources.
Every five years, the LSTA requires state library agencies to submit a five-year grant plan identifying state priorities. With the current plan through 2025, Minnesota is prioritizing digital inclusion and digital literacy programs championing Minnesota’s older adults, especially those living in rural areas.
Minnesota has a significant funding opportunity via the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. Linking the development of a state digital equity plan to existing broadband access initiatives strategically positions the Minnesota State Library Services to lead digital inclusion and digital literacy using its extensive statewide footprint across both metro and rural areas.
Broad deployment of digital inclusion and digital literacy programs will enable Minnesota’s growing older-adult population to fully participate in the virtual new normal. Thank you to Minnesota’s public libraries. They have the geographic reach, knowledge, expertise and savvy to create real change and implement digital inclusion and digital literacy as an essential healthy aging strategy benefiting all of Minnesota citizens.