What, it’s not on the Internet?

demographicsGenerally when we talk about the Digital Divide, we’re talking about the disparities in use and access to the Internet and other digital resources – primarily due to income, education, and/or geography. In April last year the Pew Research Center / Pew Internet Project released a comprehensive report on the Digital Divide – Digital differences – a survey based analysis of who’s using the Internet and how/where they’re accessing it.  While absolute trends have changed as the technologies have changed, The US is still faced with 20% of its adult population not using the Internet – though half of that is a choice, not a circumstance.

As librarians, we at the Carnegie and libraries around the country help overcome the digital divide on regular basis; running the spectrum of users from those who become self-sufficient to varying degrees, and those for whom the mouse and PC are the tools of the devil, wholly unclean and not to be touched.  I also regularly work with others for whom there is another variety of the digital divide; one that determines their future course of work and changes their otherwise comfortable relationship with the library, its librarians, and greatly challenges their 21st Century assumptions.  This divide occupies a narrow spectrum of information – that which isn’t available online – no way, no how.

telegraphIsn’t everything available online? No, it isn’t.  Generally speaking, most of what the average library user asks for is available online; maybe in a full-text database, perhaps in a published government document, possibly in a curated digitized collection, and of course in e-books.  There are also some standard tools like the USPTO’s patent search engine with accompanying displays, and one of my favorites – Google Earth. Of course we’re also positioned, and more importantly trained, to help our users with the non-digital resources they need.  Sometimes we need to do things as if it’s 1970, and that’s not necessarily a given for many students and other library users. We’ve all become comfortable with both the actual access and the assumption of access that “our” information is a click away.

The danger with that assumption is two-fold. The first will be the conclusion after an unsuccessful search that the information you’re seeking doesn’t exist – if it’s not digital, ipso-facto, it hasn’t been created.  The second concern, and maybe the more prevalent one, is that knowing it doesn’t exist electronically simply drives the user to an electronic source that they make meet their need, even if it’s a tertiary (or worse) source.  Just because most of what you might seek is available online, that doesn’t mean it all is, or that the best of it is, and that is why you can always Ask a Librarianask_a_librarian150

– Richard


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8 responses to “What, it’s not on the Internet?

  1. coolteenreads

    Great article.

  2. coolteenreads

    Reblogged this on its a teenage librarything.

  3. sarah louise

    THANK YOU, Richard.

  4. Well said, Richard.

  5. ZZMike

    Copyrighted works aren’t Out There (much to the chagrin of the “I want free stuff” group). Some newspapers are going to a subscription-access plan.

    The Internet (the Web, really, for the Web rides on the Internet) is a bit like that other WWW: the Wild Wild West. Almost everything is on the Web, and some of it is actually true.

    (An anecdotal example: a friend told us of a particular story, and claimed authenticity, because a Search turned up thousands of hits. We later discovered that 99% of these hits led to a single source – which turned out to be incorrect.)

    On another tack, I think if you include cell phone use as part of the “in crowd”, the percentage goes up. (The report shows ” 88% of American adults have a cell phone”. I think it may be higher than that – about a third of the “homeless” people I see on the street have a cell phone.) And if going to movies is any kind of a good sample, the percentage seems to me to be closer to 99%.

    The library staff has always been a good guide to the infosphere. The problem is that I read about the declining use of libraries. I was talking with someone a few days ago, who said that she went into a library and was surprised to see few books, and many computer terminals. That could be an isolated example, but I think it may apply to many smaller town libraries.

  6. sebastixn

    Reblogged this on Lost countdown. and commented:
    Great article here, I’ll put it up here for any PW-person to see!

  7. Thank you all for your responses. I guess enough of us “get it” so that all isn’t lost. Even my users, when they realize the scope and dating of the sources they need, get it too. There “aha” moment is very rewarding. On the other hand it’s entirely too frequent that I run into – – – under 30s, including library school students who’ve never cracked and/or don’t know what the Reader’s Guide is. To me, that’s a fundamental flaw, at least until everything is digitally available.

    • sarah louise

      As a woman working on a fellowship (in a different state, far from home) in a Rare books collection, I pray to God “everything” is never digitally available. The joy I get from touching these old books…is beyond measure. Yes, it would be cool to look at them digitally….but I would never do it b/c oh, I’ll get to it someday, because, you know, EVERYTHING is online. But I am forced to look at these books in my hands because they are tactile actual objects, some of them from as early as 1818.

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