In areas of the world where there is no broadband infrastructure whatsoever, how can people access online resources or engage with digital tools? I’ve been learning about offline internet solutions, such as Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries Without Borders)’s KoomBook, Internet-in-a-Box, The WiderNet Project, and SolarSPELL, and thinking about they may be integrated into some of the digital inclusion initiatives we have going on at the Arizona State Library. These are essentially portable digital libraries which serve pre-loaded offline internet content such as Khan Academy, Wikipedia, the Gutenberg virtual library of e-books, open source software and source code, and worldwide mapping down to the street level.
The focus of these efforts seems to be in developing nations, but there are still parts of rural America that lack access to robust broadband infrastructure. Not only do these tools literally create new access points where they didn’t exist before, but they also pave the way for adoption down the line by exposing people to digital content and technologies to meet a variety of information needs. Digital inclusion emphasizes broadband access as an end goal rather than offline solutions, but I am compelled by how offline internet can work into the trajectory of connectivity and if there is a use for these technologies in areas with some access.
It’s exciting to think of potential ways that brick-and-mortar libraries could engage with offline internet. In theory, because the content is controlled, libraries could curate the collections to support programming and address community needs. Can digital libraries be checked out to low-income households to close the homework gap? Could a digital library be created specifically for teaching digital literacy skills or job skills training? Could tribal libraries create web-based, interactive digital collections of cultural resource materials to share with the community? I’m looking forward to talking with libraries in Arizona to see if there is interest in exploring some of these uses.