I’m happy to say that the momentum for digital inclusion work at the Arizona State Library will continue after the NDIA Digital Inclusion Corps pilot ends this month. This week we had the second Digital Inclusion Working Group meeting. Working group is an apt name as we are still determining what our scope is. Ultimately, our aim is to support libraries as digital inclusion champions by improving institutional capacity for providing digital services at the local library level. We know that we want to specifically support “under-connected” libraries in Arizona, and our early discussions have illuminated that given the complex and idiosyncratic nature of measuring digital divides, there’s no clear definition of what “under-connected” means for libraries. We know that many Arizona libraries do not provide access to the FCC’s minimum standard for broadband, but broadband is only one leg of the 3-legged (or 5-legged) digital inclusion stool. How can we characterize the barriers to digital inclusion for libraries and library staff?
Our first steps are to compile data from a variety of internal and external sources and to create a system for prioritizing libraries based on digital inclusion need. As one means of orienting our data, we are utilizing the 5 components of digital inclusion. Of course, some of this data will be easier to capture than others and at this point in our deliberations we are speaking of these topics abstractly. It’s also important to note that while we can use data to inform our activities, the librarians-on-the-ground are equal partners in this effort and will ultimately be the ones who determine what areas to address, if any.
The State Library requests annual statistics from all public libraries in the state, including information about the type of Internet connectivity and the maximum speed of connection in the building. Libraries self-report data, but not all libraries report back for various reasons. Once our internal data is processed, we plan to incorporate additional regional information (i.e. BroadbandNow and the Digital Divide Index) to paint a clearer picture of the library’s role as an anchor institution in providing access for the community.
Our statistics count the total number of public access computers at the library, but do not provide information about the age or condition of the machines. We will seek qualitative data concerning whether the computers are able to meet end-user needs.
For our purposes, this refers to the techknowledge of the library staff, awareness and comfort level of digital services, and understanding of avenues for increasing broadband capacity in the building—E-rate is a good place to start. In my experience talking with Arizona libraries this year as part of the NDIA corps, I’ve found that training will also involve library advocacy to community stakeholders.
This criteria will get at the availability of IT support for the library and the library staff. Anecdotally, we know that in some cases the library is supported by one IT staff for the whole county or tribe, and in other cases the library is only supported by the service provider.
We’re still determining what type of information we will seek regarding librarian-facing content. It may involve continuing education training for 21st century library services, such as a web presence for the library, library management systems, and provision of electronic resources. It may involve looking at digital inclusion solutions to addressing relevant community needs and increasing use by non-adopters.