Helping People Cross the Digital Divide

Library Resources | Marco Annunziata| November 05, 2018

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EBSCO Learning Express Director of Content Development Marco Annunziata explores the concept around the Digital Divide — defined as the gap between those who have access to information and communication through today’s technologies, or the skills to use them and those who may not.

Thanks to the Internet, most readers are visiting this blog from different parts of the world. We’re all connected to a single point. Think about all the ways (beyond just posting selfies) that internet-connected devices are used, whether at work, communication (including social), banking, shopping, entertainment, learning and information. Internet-connected devices are popular channels for people to access and take part in the modern world. There’s no doubt that access and participation are necessities and for 88 percent of Americans, it’s not a concern. But what about the other 12 percent?

Those 12 percent of Americans exist on the other side of what’s called the “Digital Divide.”

According to a 2013 Pew research survey, Broadband Internet at Home, there are five potential factors to how someone ends up on the wrong side of this digital divide.

1. Access

The first factor from the Pew Study is a lack of availability or access. Today, geography can be a determining factor of digital access. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report, about 22 million people, 53 percent of the nation’s rural residents, lack access to benchmarked broadband speeds of 25 Mbps. A year later, the 2016 Broadband Progress Report indicated that this number dropped to 39 percent of rural Americans, versus four percent of urban residents.  

2. Affordability

Not surprisingly, the second factor is affordability. A little more than half (53 percent) of adults in the United States whose incomes are less than $30,000 a year have broadband Internet at home, compared to 93 percent of those who earn $75,000 or more.

3. Education

The study also finds that another factor closely tied to affordability is education level. For example, 91 percent of college graduates have broadband Internet at home. But that number drops down to 61 percent for high school graduates, and down to only 34 percent for those without a high school diploma.

4. Usability Concerns

The fourth factor from the Pew Study relates to usability concerns. This group of respondents is comprised of those who think the Internet and tools for accessing it are too difficult to use. It is also made up of people who are physically unable to use them or who are afraid or intimidated because of spam, spyware, hackers, or privacy concerns.

5. Relevance

The final factor outlined in the report that is limiting access is relevance. There still are many in the United States who have no interest in connecting, and believe it isn’t relevant to their lives. Regardless of access, some people simply don’t want to connect, don’t believe they need to do so, or think it’s a waste of time.

Increasingly critical information and communication resources are migrating to the web and can only be accessed online.

Impact on American Adults

So, what is the impact of this digital divide? A well-trained and well-informed workforce is essential, and it’s not hard to see how the digital divide could worsen existing inequalities in a way that would have a negative impact on the nation’s economy in the future.

Increasingly critical information and communication resources are migrating to the web and can only be accessed online. Digital access has the potential to transform entire communities — especially in isolated rural areas — but in many cases without internet access or knowledge of today’s technologies, communities are shut off from progress and are being left behind.

The days of circling “Help Wanted” ads in a printed newspaper are fast disappearing. The internet and social media have completely revolutionized the way we search and apply for jobs. It’s estimated that in the past two years, about 90 percent of job seekers in the United States have used the internet to research jobs, and 84 percent have applied for a job online. But for those without internet access or digital skills, the already difficult task of searching for a job becomes almost impossible.

Beyond the job search, today more than 8 in 10 (82 percent) middle-skill jobs now require “everyday” digital computer experience skills, like using a digital spreadsheet and word-processing program, using database software and other job-specific programs  (according to Burning Glass Technologies). Access to digital skills can broaden those once-limited opportunities.

Enter EBSCO LearningExpress

It’s no secret that in rural communities, public libraries are vital to helping bridge the digital divide for hardware and internet access. In many cases, they provide community institutions, organizations and schools with the only source of computers and internet access. The EBSCO LearningExpress eLearning platform, found in more than 50 percent of state libraries across the nation, effectively available for free to more than 120 million individuals in the United States, is in a unique position to help level the digital playing field for academic and career information.

Find out how EBSCO LearningExpress platforms can help library patrons and students cross the digital divide by providing help with the skills needed in today’s world by visiting the LearningExpress website.

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Marco Annunziata
Director of Content Development, EBSCO LearningExpress

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