He did not know how to use a computer so I helped him learn how to click the mouse, where to type the web address, and how to capitalize letters on the keyboard. We got to the website only to find he needed an email address to log in. He didn’t have one, so I showed him Gmail and taught him what a password is. Luckily he had a cell phone, without one, setting up an email address would be a lot more difficult.
So then we could log in to get his W2. But the website needed the exact amount of his last paycheck. He didn’t have a paystub or any way to access it online. He didn’t even have an account to check his bank statement online. He drove to his employer, got the information, and came back. Finally, 2 hours later, we were able to print his W2 and last 6 paychecks. What would he have done without a library?
I see examples of the digital divide every day. According to the 2013 US census, fewer than 50% of households making less than $25,000 have Internet access in their homes. Some of these do have mobile Internet access, but that does not help in creating and submitting resumes, job searching, and printing essential forms, such as W2s. Basic and essential tools that people need to get ahead and to get by are withheld from them due to lack of Internet.
While the numbers show that the digital divide is shrinking, I would argue that for those without Internet, the divide is growing. As the percentage of people with Internet access grows, more and more information and resources are available only online. People who need clothing in certain sizes is available only online. Job seekers who are told applications are online only, even for jobs that have nothing to do with computers. Children whose teachers expect them to use the Internet to find information and print pictures for projects. There are so many things that most of us take for granted that are inaccessible to those without Internet access.
The Pew Research Center found that 63% of respondents without Internet access say they if they did have it, they would need someone to help them. Libraries are essential to communities, not only in providing resources to access the Internet, but also in teaching patrons how use it successfully, both in classes and informal one-on-one help. Show your support and pledge to vote for libraries by visiting http://action.everylibrary.org/pledge_to_vote_for_libraries
“Digital Divides 2015.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (September 22, 2015) http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/09/22/digital-divides-2015/, February 13, 2016.