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Bridging the Digital Divide

Look into any place of business, classroom, doctor’s office, or even retail store these days and you’ll find that they all have one thing in common: they all have computers. In order to get a job, get an education, or get ahead, young people have to be intimately familiar with technology, so why are we still putting textbooks and novels in front of them and telling them that’s all they need to succeed in life?

A misconception that even professional educators subscribe to is that youth are naturally tech savvy due to their, well, youth. However, the opposite may be true. Teenagers are, in fact, “easily bored and frustrated by the web , and less successful with their online searches than adults.”1 They may be able to IM with their phone in their pocket but that doesn’t mean they don’t need our help. Beyond the need for librarians to provide traditional opportunities for learning and growth in the form of books, we have an obligation to provide opportunities to expand information literacy.

The library isn’t just a place for books and old ladies in cardigans and reading glasses. It is a place of learning and that means technology along side books; computers hand-in-hand with the printed page. Literature can only be enhanced by pathfinders like this one for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

How often have you closed a book and thought to yourself: “man, I wish there was more where that came from.” When you direct your children to a library’s pathfinders, you give them just that: links to more information, more books like the one they just read, exciting media elements, and games. If you are lucky, you’ve also given them a little nudge along the road to becoming a lifetime reader and a lifetime learner.

But technology in the library doesn’t just enhance the literary experience, it can also be tremendously relevant in the daily lives of our young patrons. For example, this teen webquest provides step-by-step instructions to create a resume. Sure there are countless websites dedicated to resume writing advice on the internet, but not a lot of information for a high school student or recent graduate who doesn’t have a work history or experience. You’d have to really hunt to find all the information that is available in this one compact little webquest.


As great as it can be to have information at your fingertips, technology in the library isn’t just about pathfinders and webquests. Jamshid Beheshti of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, points out that “a growing body of research shows that children and young adults when seeking information under imposed tasks such as school projects encounter many problems and challenges” and are, in many cases, “information illiterate.”2 This is not surprising with the deceptive ease by which students can use Google and Wikipedia to conduct research, that the results they are turning up aren’t worth the paper they are scribbled on.

A reference or youth librarian is the ideal person to teach a middle or high school student how to use comprehensive databases, such as EBSCOHost or ProQuest, to find articles on current events, history, the arts and sciences, as well as a vast array of other topics.These are skills that not only make them better students, but also prepare them for college and to become informed citizens. Teaching our young people to utilize technology in the library and at school is like handing them the keys to their future, but their teachers and librarians’ efforts and expertise can be a determining factor in what type of future those keys unlock.
Beyond just finding information, a library can also provide children and teens with the tools to communicate what they have found to their teachers, community, and peers through the written word, through visuals and graphics, and even through digital mediums such as podcasts or film. A responsive youth program will have a variety of software and presentation tools at their disposal and the know-how to instruct young patrons in how to use them. We are all familiar with Powerpoint, but what about Prezi? Or Frames?

Prezi is one of my favorite, free tools. It is an interactive, zoom and pan presentation medium that is an dynamic alternative to the same old, boring PowerPoint that we all snooze to in meetings. Frames 5, by tech4learning.com, comes with a small price tag but it well worth investing in. It is an easy to use animation tool for making short films and presentations (think Final Cut junior) that provides young patrons with an exciting presentation tool as well as an outlet for their creativity. And these are just two among many tools available!

 

A 2005 Pew Research Center report on teens and technology found that more, not less, young people are visiting the library for their online needs: 54%, up from 36% in 2000.3 This is an encouraging trend. Classroom teachers often do not have the time or resources to spend introducing students to research and information portals, presentation and communication software, or teaching the finer points of conducting productive research in our Google world. Libraries can and should.

With everything the modern library has to offer its young patrons – computers, databases, webquests, pathfinders, software, video games, and multimedia – it is a wonder they aren’t beating a path to our door! These types of tools and resources greatly enhance children and teens’ technological proficiency, increase their comfort level, and might even lead them to discover a passion for film, computer science, graphic design, or even librarianship. We are doing a disservice to young people if we neglect to include e-resources as fundamental tools in our arsenal for the war against illiteracy.

So boot up, login, and chart a course for more technology in the library! Your patrons will thank you.

Cited:

1Kathy Ishizuka, “Teens as Tech Wizards? Not!” School Library Journal, April, 1 2005 (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA514039.html)

2Jamshid Beheshti, “Teens, Virtual Environments and Information Literacy,” Bulletin for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 38.3, February-March 2012, 54-57, (http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Feb-12/FebMar12_Beheshti.pdf )

3Pew Research Center, Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation, July 25, 2005. (http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2005/PIP_Teens_Tech_July2005web.pdf.pdf)

Screenshots:

“Ghoul Gate : A Graveyard Book pathfinder,” by me (https://sites.google.com/site/theghoulgate)

“My first resume: a how-to guide,’ also by me (https://sites.google.com/site/resumeprimer)

Prezi (http://prezi.com)

Frames 5 (http://www.tech4learning.com/frames)

Images:

“Kids on computer” from Google Images

“Success Keys” from Llenrock Real Estate’s blog (totally stolen)

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6 comments on “Bridging the Digital Divide

  1. I’m so glad to see a blog entry about the digital divide. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people joke about how libraries/librarians are no longer relevant because so many people have Internet access at home. It’s almost as if they don’t realize that (a) about 29% of people DON’T have at-home Internet access, according to Pew Research, and (b) just because you have a home computer doesn’t mean you know how to properly evaluate sources for research. I really hope the FCC’s plan for nationwide “free” Wi-Fi pans out to help more people gain access to the Internet and other digital resources.

  2. Great information and points. I basically wanted to give you kudos on that pathfinder because it’s awesome and it’s about Gaiman. 😀

  3. When I was doing my library tour assignment last semester, one of the librarians told me that not only did young people have trouble finding and evaluating sources for papers but also that some of them had trouble even using the mouse. Considering that it’s now hard to get a job at McDonald’s without a high school diploma and computer skills, technology education is critical in our schools. But if our schools don’t have the resources to do so (and many of them don’t), it’s up to libraries to fill in the gaps.

  4. You are so right. The library is really keeping up with this technology and making it available to its patrons. It is a good thing because it makes it accessible to people who many not have this type of technology in their homes.

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