The Digital Divide and Information Equity: Challenges and Opportunities for Libraries in the Twenty-first Century
2000–2001 ALA President
ALA President’s Program
2001 Midwinter Meeting—Washington, D.C.
“The Digital Divide and Information Equity: Challenges and Opportunities
for Libraries in the Twenty-first Century” January 14, 2001, 2–4 P.M.
Washington Convention Center, Hall C
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: Welcome to the 2001 Midwinter Meeting ALA President’s Program, “The Digital Divide and Information Equity: Challenges and Opportunities for Libraries in the 21st Century.” I’m Nancy Kranich, ALA President, and I am delighted to welcome you here this afternoon and thank you very much for joining me.
You have been listening to the music of Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub. The band’s appearance today is presented by LIVE! @ your library, an initiative of the ALA Public Programs Office. Let’s give the band a round of applause. (Applause.)
We have an exciting and informative President’s Program planned for you. As you may know, the theme of my presidential year is “Libraries: The Cornerstone of Democracy.”
In meetings, programs, publications and forums throughout this year, I am exploring the many ways in which libraries advance democracy in our society. The Internet gives us new hope for rekindling the democratic principles put forth by our founding fathers in the constitution. New hope that everyone will have the opportunity to participate in our information society. Even if a household cannot afford nor chooses not to connect to the Internet from home, people can log on at their local libraries.
Nevertheless, too many people are falling behind in their access to computers and telecommunications networks. No matter whose data is used to describe the digital divide, we can be certain that there is and promises to remain differential access to the Internet. Libraries play a very special role, not just in providing access, but also in ensuring that the public can find content of interest and apply the necessary skills to utilize information successfully.
Singer-songwriter Paul Burch has written an original song on the theme of democracy. We are fortunate to be the first audience to hear this song. Once again, please welcome Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub. (Applause.)
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: That was a great performance. It was real hard to not get up and start dancing. Thank you to Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub. (Applause.)
Our keynote speaker today is Larry Irving, Jr. Larry is the president of the Irving Information Group, a consulting firm providing strategic planning and market development services to international telecommunication and information technology companies. During the Clinton-Gore Administration, Larry served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. During these years, Larry served as the conscience of the administration in calling attention to the growing digital divide in America. He spearheaded the measurement of this divide and led the government’s efforts to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the information age. Larry is widely credited with coining the term “digital divide” and informing the American public about the growing problem it represents. He initiated and was the principal author of the landmark Federal survey “Falling through the Net,” which tracks access to telecommunications and information technologies across racial, economic, and geographic lines.
Under Larry’s leadership, the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, now known as the Technology Opportunities Program, or TOP, orchestrated an innovative grant program that reaches into communities to build partnerships for information access—partnerships which include tens of millions of dollars awarded to libraries and other community groups.
In recognition of his work to promote policies and develop programs to ensure access to advanced telecommunication and information technologies, Larry was named one of the 50 most influential persons in the “Year of the Internet” by Newsweek magazine, which described him as the “conscience of the Internet.” (Applause.)
Last March on Freedom of Information Day, I was honored to present to Larry ALA’s James Madison Award for his leadership in promoting the public’s right to know in an electronic age. Indeed, Larry Irving is a friend and champion of public access to telecommunications and information technologies. I can think of no more fitting person to frame our discussion of the digital divide and information equity than Larry Irving. Please join me in welcoming him. (Applause.)
>> LARRY IRVING: Good afternoon. It is an honor for me to be here and I want to thank the ALA and particularly your President, Nancy, for inviting me. I also thank Elizabeth Dreazen for inviting me. She did yeoperson’s work. I’ve been living all over the country and for three months she was trying to tie me down and it wasn’t possible until very recently, so I want to thank her as well.
I am looking at this panel and trying to figure out why I’m giving the keynote. It’s an amazing aggregation of talented people. I was thinking of a gentleman I know from Pennsylvania. He was a good man. He lived a good life, but the only thing he did during that life was live through the Johnstown flood. He told people about that story and his life and the Johnstown flood. He died and went up to heaven. He lived a spiritual life and he arrived at St. Peter’s gates and St. Peter said, “On your first day here in heaven you get to do anything. What would you like to do?” And he said, “I only do one thing and that’s tell a story. Tomorrow I’d like to tell my story before all the celestial masses.” They dress him up in his heavenly robe and the heavenly choir is behind him and St. Peter says, “What are you going to talk about? What’s the subject?” And he said, “I’m going to talk about the most amazing event ever. The Johnstown flood.” And St. Peter said, “That guy in the front row, that’s Noah.” There are about five Noah’s who know this technology so much more than I do.
I hope all of you yesterday had a chance to read the Washington Post’s article about libraries, and the “old-fangled” search engine. It profiled Nancy. I was proud to get up at 7:00 in the morning and see a friend in the Style section of the Washington Post—specially since I’m a Democrat leaving. I saw the article about Nancy and about libraries and it was really compelling. And it made me think that I had to rewrite my speech because everything I was going to talk about, Nancy had already talked about.
One of the things that’s so important for people to think about and recognize and understand about libraries is they’re not just repositories. They’re for knowledge in whatever form. I was blessed. I was a young boy who lived near libraries and my parents at an early age understood the importance of having their children access libraries. I understood it was microfiche and magazines and charts and music and records and CD’s and cassettes in the libraries in Queens County, New York, where I grew up. It wasn’t going just into the Dewey Decimal system. We have to make sure people around this globe understand what libraries mean. That it’s not just a finite resource. It’s an ever-expanding resource because knowledge is ever-expanding. And that’s what I think the message that yesterday was so compelling in terms of Nancy’s comments in the Post. But she also talked about values. She also talked about the importance of making sure that all of us understand that we can’t limit information. That we have to make sure that there’s public access. That the digital divide matters because in a democracy any uninformed person can’t participate in the democracy. That’s what the discussion is about and that’s what the article yesterday allowed us to talk about. So I want to thank all of you for being here and I want to thank ALA and Nancy for scheduling this discussion about the digital divide. It’s very important to our nation, but it may be more important to our world.
You know, I do a lot of speeches now. I’m on the speaker’s tour since I left government, and I title myself a futurist. About three weeks ago the Washington Post showed me the folly of trying to call myself a futurist. They printed a series of predictions by past futurists and I want to read them and show you the trouble you can get into when you talk about technology and predictions. Back in 1876, there was an internal memo in Western Union saying the telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. There was some other gentleman who said in Great Britain in 1895 that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. In 1895, Albert Einstein’s teacher said, “No matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.” I love this because I was a Commerce Department person. Back in 1899, 101 years ago, Mr. Charles H. Dewell said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
One Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Robert Miliken, said, “There’s no likelihood that man can tap the power of the atom,” and Albert Einstein said, “There’s not the slightest inclination that the energy of the atom can be captured.”
Charles Watson in 1943 said, “I think there’s a world market for maybe five computers.” And Ken Olson said, “There’s no need for any individual to have a computer in his home.” We can debate whether there’s a need to have one but there’s no doubt we have them.
That’s what the digital divide is all about. There are about 100 million people, plus or minus a few, who have computers in their home and what’s interesting is the pace of those computers and the pace of the change of those computers. I walked around the exhibit hall before I came in here. I wanted to see what was happening. And six or seven years ago you wouldn’t have seen as much technology or the focus on technology that you’re seeing today at an ALA meeting. You would have seen some but not the conductivity that you’re seeing now. Eight years ago today I was part of the Clinton-Gore transition team talking about information technology and what we were going to do as a new administration. What we were going to do about electronic communications and information technology. In a 36-day period, I wrote approximately 20 memos. In those 20 memos, I went back and counted, I used the word “Internet” two times. Eight years ago, 20 memos, I was the leading quote-unquote advisor to the President of the United States, we used the term “Internet” twice. That’s not surprising because when I had my confirmation hearing I had members of the Senate Commerce Committee with all the technology in front of me asking me questions for an hour and a half, two hours. The word “Internet” never came up in that two-hour period in March–April of 1993.
So eight years ago, the leading thinkers, quote-unquote, in Washington, which is maybe an oxymoron, they weren’t talking about the Internet and now you can’t have a discussion about technology without talking about the Internet. We did use the term Information Superhighway and it is interesting that libraries were the centerpiece of what the President and Vice President thought of as the Information Superhighway. If you think back, Al Gore always talked about the little girl in Carthage who would have access to everything in the Library of Congress through the Information Superhighway, but we couldn’t have foreseen things like Napster or palm pilots or real audio or MP3s. Companies like Microsoft were not heavily investing in Intel in the ’92, ’93, ’94 time frame and that’s how quickly the world has changed and will change. Your world will change because you’re using technology the way you never envisioned it and in two or three years you’ll using it in ways we can’t foresee. It’s a wonderful thing.
I try to explain to people that if you really want to understand technology, think of the business card. The plain old business card. It had its origins, what, 500-600 years ago as a calling card. You went to visit your friend in London, you had your name on it, you dropped it if they weren’t there and you went home. 400 years passed, that’s all you had. You dropped it in a plate. People in this century put on addresses. It didn’t have just a name. It had a name and address. It was that way for 20 or 30 years and then somebody figured out, “I’m going to put my phone number on it so they can call me when I leave my calling card,” so you had name, address, and phone number. Then you got faxes. Probably about 1975, 1980 we put fax numbers on the calling cards. That was a significant change. Some people put teletypes. I don’t know what a teletype is but some people put teletypes on their cards. In 1993, I believe that I was almost the first person to put on my e-mail address. In government, that was cutting edge. In 1995, I put my URL on there. I was the second or third one to do that. I was really very cool. And I noticed how many cards started changing to e-mail and URL’s. Now you don’t think of something like this. You think of something like this. And if you’re cool, you beam your calling card. In the last seven years, we’ve seen more changes in the anthropology of the business card than we saw in 40 or 50 years. That’s Internet speed. That’s the kind of change we’re talking about. When people talk how do we change it? It changes everything fundamentally.
I was watching the PBS series on jazz the other night and I found out I didn’t know much about Sydney Bechet but I could go online and get streaming audio and Napster had some recordings uploaded. 50 million people have downloaded just Napster in a year and a half. Between the Wednesday of the injunction and the Friday, 4 1/2 million people downloaded Napster so they could access the technology. There are some implications for libraries but that’s an amazing statistic to me. More and more kids will want to put my MP3 player here and suck down some of this music. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming. One of the biggest selling devices was MP3 devices. I have on my laptop 1,500 songs—purely for academic purposes—that I’ve downloaded from all over the world to show the power of Napster. My nephew has a device that holds 6 gigs of memory. It’s the size of a CD Walkman. He can walk around with 1,500 songs on a little device classified by jazz and hip hop and classical and I’ll tell him about the gentleman who played a little earlier. He has all this sitting on there and will want to get it faster and how to get it from public spaces. We’ll all be involved in that debate in the not-too-distant future.
What’s interesting is, as my nephew is thinking about that and as I’m running around with my laptop and all of us have our Palms or pagers with access to the Internet, there are Americans who aren’t connected at all. Fewer of half of America is connected right now. And that’s connected anywhere. At work, at home, at public institutions, at anywhere. We live in a country of 281 million people according to the census. About 150 million aren’t connected to the Net. Certain populations, it’s much worse. In the African American community we’re talking about 25 million black Americans out of 35 to 40 African Americans who aren’t connected. In the Hispanic community, 25 million aren’t connected. Almost 100 white Americans aren’t connected to the Net. 60 to 75 percent—we don’t have the correct statistics—of Native Americans—I’m sorry, 75 to 80 percent are not connected to the Net at any time of their day. That’s a travesty. In a nation this rich where I have my Palm and computer and a DSL line at home and a T1 line at work, I can walk five minutes from where I’m standing and see 80 percent of the community doesn’t use technology at all in any part of their day. Never. Not once. That’s why the digital divide is so important and why we started the survey. What I wanted to demonstrate was the anecdotal evidence when I went to Kentucky or Montana or Brownsville, Texas. It needed to be demonstrated to America what the depth of the problem was. Once you explain what the problem is and the diagnosis, then we can talk about creative solutions. I think it was important that we did this in the Clinton administration and we’re continuing to do it.
What’s frightening is the divide continues to grow. As more and more blacks, Hispanics and low-income whites get on line, affluent whites and affluent blacks are more likely to be online so you see a spread. It’s empowering that 75—sorry, 81 percent of Americans with children of school age with incomes over $75,000 have a computer at home. Four out of five homes, if you have a $75,000 income and you have a child of school age, you have a computer at home connected to the Internet. 4 out of 5. That statistics is 1 out of 10 for families with incomes below $15,000. What happens to those kids? What happens to a kid who comes home every day and has access to the Internet and is in school with a kid who doesn’t have access? Public institutions have to take up some of the slack.
What I worry about as we define the digital divide is that we define it too narrowly. We talk about the household divide. One divide and maybe not the most important divide. The public institution divide is equally critical. Growing up in Queens County, New York, there was no kid in Scarsdale who had access to more information than I did, because I could go to the library and access anything that any kid anywhere in the world could access. When I was a kid I could get access until 8:00 or 9:00. But it wasn’t until recently that our public libraries had the same kind of access and candidly, when I go back up to Queens on Thursday nights it doesn’t happen anymore. I was in Pittsburgh and went to the library on Friday. It’s closed every Friday. We were sending an e-mail to my father-in-law. His Web TV was down. Wanted to go in on Monday but every public library is closed on Monday for the holiday. When public institutions can’t provide it, people fall through the cracks. We’re talking about access in K–12 schools. We can’t just talk about connecting a school to a computer. We have to talk about curriculum. Content. Trained teachers. All connectivity is not the same.
In my old high school in Queens County, New York, we had one computer for a thousand kids. Five network computers. 5,000 kids. Good luck if you want to spend a lot of time on the Internet and you’re a kid in that community. A lot of kids in that community don’t have a laptop or computer at home. They use the school’s. One computer, 1,000 kids. I went to New Jersey recently and a similar public school had one computer for two kids. Those kids, for the most part, had technology at home. What’s going to happen? In my old school it’s dial-up network. In central New Jersey it was T1 lines. There’s a marked difference when you’re pulling information at five or six times the speed that another kid is pulling the information and you can get a hour’s worth of time and you have a trained teacher and the curriculum is tied to the content. We’re focusing on some things but not all of the things we need to focus on if this is going to make sense for us.
We also have to start thinking about colleges and community colleges and what’s happening there. I was fortunate. I went to great colleges. I serve on boards of the two colleges where I went to school. I spent a lot of time there and technology, that is kind of my thing, I like to see what happens. We’re talking about Internet 2. Internet 3. We’re talking about supercomputer applications at places like Northwestern and Cal Tech and MIT, and then I go to historically black colleges and universities and I see a markedly different picture. It is great at Northwestern or Georgetown—you have access to technology—but are we perpetrating a fraud on our children when some of our children are graduating with an understanding of technology and how to use it and some don’t have a clue? When you go to a school like the University of Virginia, the kids have access to computers they own—either a laptop or a computer they own.
Within the University of Virginia the ratio between black students and non-black is 25 percent of black students own their technology versus 85 percent of white students own their own technology. There’s that kind of disparity and then in black institutions—the black college campuses in the State of Virginia don’t have daily access to network computers. That’s the same story for most Hispanic students in this country and that’s the same situation for most tribal colleges. It’s also the same situation for the majority of students in community colleges in our country.
Why is that important? Take a state like California. There are 2.2 million students in the state of California. 1.5 million of those students go to community colleges. Most of those 1.5 million, the vast majority of the incoming post-high school work force, aren’t using technology on a daily basis. All of us are giving speeches talking about 60 percent of the jobs created today are jobs that require an understanding of information technology. Almost 70 percent of California state college graduates are graduating from schools that don’t give them the training they need for the jobs they need to hold. It’s an insane situation. And then we say we have a worker shortage in this country and we have to import workers. I’m an inclusionist. If we need to bring people in from India, Taiwan, let’s do it. How about going to Kentucky or Montana or New Mexico or going into Washington, D.C., or going to our rural kids or brown kids or black kids or Asian kids who are brought up poor in this country and training them and making sure that K–12 and past they get the skill sets.
Do you know we lose most of our girls in minorities to technology in 6th to 8th grade? They’re just as focused on science and math as boys and then from 6th to 8th grade something flips the switch and boys think of science as a career and girls stop thinking of science as a career. Something happens with minority students, and I’m not sure at what age it is. A kid will go and get a basketball and Sega. He plays with Sega and doesn’t envision being Bill Gates but he’ll get a basketball and envision himself a professional basketball player. It doesn’t make sense to me. We’ve never quite figured out how to help these kids make the leap that if you can invent creative ways to play a Sega, you can invent the games. You can invent a creative move on the basketball court, but you may not be Alan Iverson. Paul Allen is not a hyperthyroid freak of nature. I’m small for a basketball player. Kids 5'8" swear to me they’ll play pro basketball. A 5'8" engineer can still make a lot of money. You can’t get it in these kids’ heads.
My point is that we’ve got to continue focusing attention on what’s important in this society. And what’s important is knowledge and education and access to information. And there’s a point at which some of our students, because of public institutions, because of structural infirmities, aren’t getting the same level of understanding of what technology can and should be for them that other students in our society are. There is a marked difference between going home to a technology or parent who is teaching you who to use this and not, but there’s also a difference between being able to walk down the street to a public institution that provides you access to things you can’t get at home.
I lived that life. We didn’t have a huge library at home. All the information in the world was available at my public school and my public library. And that’s the same world we want to make available to the children who are coming up behind me in Queens. There are all kinds of people coming from all parts of the world who want to learn. A library is more important for communities like that because there isn’t going to be enough information that library. When that library is networked, all of a sudden you have the entirety of the world at the fingertips of anybody who is in that public space.
We also have to start thinking about small businesses and nonprofits. Some other statistics: In Europe they’re making great strides. 50 percent of small businesses are online. Businesses in counties in California or counties around Austin, Texas are increasingly online. Black-Hispanic businesses, fewer than 10 percent are online and not using it for commercial purposes. If GE and Ford and Dell can reduce their costs by being online, don’t you think a small mom and pop company would do that as well if they have an online presence? No one has really thought about the import of having public places for small businesses to really come and learn online and have access online in an overwhelming and comprehensive manner. We need to think what are we going to do about small businesses? What about non-profits? If they are organizations that are understaffed and underfunded and need tools to help do their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently, it’s non-profits. The divide between non-profit utilization of technology and the rest of the world is almost too huge to bridge. We’ve got to start thinking about that divide and what it means. And the divide I’m very scared about is the broadband divide.
The last Falling through the Net report showed something I thought was very powerful. It showed that roughly 10 percent of all people online have broadband. So whether you’re white or black, about 10 percent of the folks online have broadband. Blacks and Hispanics are fewer than 25 percent so fewer than 2 percent have it. We want to see DSL and cable modems in more homes. If we see the same divide in broadband with that we see existing technology it will be more problematic.
You’re starting to see music and graphics and videos. There was a report from the consumer electronics show that you can create—four years ago the concept of making your own CD-ROM wasn’t possible for anybody. I now download MP 3’s and put it on my real jukebox, take the music from there and point a CD in my burner and put it in my car. It’s all technology I already own. It’s my personal use. I burned 100 CD’s the week after Christmas. Three years ago, without a $15,000 piece of equipment, you couldn’t have done it. Now people are burning DVD’s. What you can do is take a picture of Sue and John at Christmas and make a digital copy of it and shoot it over the Internet to granny in Alaska. That will be real this year at an affordable price. And for people who don’t have a laptop computer or PC at home you can send a DVD to your cousin or your aunt or your brother or sister. It’s real. It’s happening now. As I’m speaking, the technology is making it happen.
Those kinds of changes of broadband also have implications if you want to follow debates. If you want to follow what’s happening in the energy crisis in California, you’ll have more and more stream video over these platforms. Fewer and fewer people of minimal economic might are going to have access to that. What is the role of those public institutions in terms of broadband access? Where do people who don’t have or don’t think they can afford that access turn? Do libraries and other public institutions have the financial ability to fill that gap? Is anybody really thinking about who’s going to fill that gap if our public institutions can’t fill that gap? I’m really concerned about this. I know the victories we’ve had on things like E-rate. I’m amazed at the success libraries have had, with so many libraries online including a vast majorities of rural libraries— we’re talking upward of 93 percent—and they have access to broadband. Yet, as much as progress we’re making, we have to make more progress. We have Congress say, “If you don’t do this thing that you think is stupid you won’t get the money to do this thing which we think makes sense.” It’s an insane debate where we can’t make sure everybody who wants access has access without bringing irrelevant debates into the access debate.
There is one issue I would—(applause)—I was trying to be a little elliptical. But the point is, tying the E-rate to censorship is the dumbest thing I’ve heard. Unfortunately, Washington does dumb things from time to time.
There’s a gentleman whose name many of you may not have heard but who I think all of us should be proud of. Marion Marino. Go to marino.org for more information. What he’s trying to do I think is the single most important change in the last five or ten years. He’s trying to change the debate from a discussion of access to one of outcomes. It’s incredibly important that we change our thinking from access to outcomes. When I started doing the digital divide reports, I wanted to show people that there’s a problem with access. We now have, in most institutions, an understanding that we all need access to technology. But now that we understand we need access to technology, for what purpose do we need access to technology? What are we trying to do?
You know, Peter Drucker, the great management theorist, said you get what you measure and you get a lot of what you measure a lot. We spend a lot of time measuring access. We haven’t spent a lot of time measuring what we get when we get access. What are we trying to do?
I was reading an article in Fortune and a businessman was talking about what he tells other people about technology. He says, “If I was creating a digital business, I wouldn’t start with the Internet. I wouldn’t start with technology. I’d challenge people and their colleagues to articulate the first five or six most important business issues facing the company. What are the most important issues we face? How could do we build a business model to address those issues? How do we develop the right answer to that question by taking advantage of digital tools?” That’s the right answer for any question. What are you trying to do? First, who are you? Who is your customer? What does your customer need? What are you trying to do for that customer? How does the digital tool help you? Having technology that doesn’t do what you or your customer needs it to do is irrelevant. We don’t have enough money in society to throw the technology against the wall. It will break. We need to take technology and figure out before we make the investment, what are we trying to use it for? And in every community that’s represented in this room, you’re going to have a different use of that technology for the core community you’re trying to serve.
In ’91, ’92, I worked with Congressman Ed Markey on the Television Decoder and Circuitry Act. We hoped to serve three communities. One, the hearing impaired. It has served them because every television over 13 inches has closed captioning. It serves them. The second we thought it would serve was those who were illiterate, because when you watch TV and read it helps your literacy rate. There was a third group we thought it would help. People for whom English was a second language, because when they watch television and read it below, it helps them. Little did we know that the single most important use would be in America’s bars. Whenever you walk in a bar you see the closed captioning. When they go to a bar they’ll start thinking of me.
In my household we found a fifth use. My wife gets crazy because we have two rooms and I multi-task. I watch TV with the stereo on while I’m on the Internet. It drives you a little nuts and I’m nuts for doing it. It’s a guy thing, I think. But when I’m sitting there watching it, we have a central heater and that heater comes on. I’ve got the television on trying to hear the stereo over the television. It’s loud and I’d jack it up and it would go louder with the heater on. My wife would get annoyed in the den. She had a solution. Turn on the closed captioning as well and keep the volume at a certain level and when the space heater comes on, you can then see the television instead of hearing the television. A fifth use of closed captioning technology I’m proud to talk about. But the point I’m trying to make is, each of those uses of technology is a relevant use for somebody. And each of the uses of the Net and digital technology is a relevant use in your community. And that’s what we have to start focusing on. What are we trying to do here? What are the measurements that we need in our community? If you’re a rural community in New Mexico or Arizona, you’re going to have a very different need than an urban enclave on 125th Street in Harlem, but it will be different again from what’s going to happen in Kentucky or Alaska. Each of you is important. Each of you has a role, but each of you has to figure out what you need in terms of being wired. What do you do with it? That’s the discussion no one is having.
You know, I’m trying to figure out the library of the future. I hope the library of the future continues to be what I’ve seen it be. I’ve gone up to the Science and Business Library and I’ve seen it be a small business and non-profit training center. A place where a person with a small business in New York can go down into the basement and have access for hours at a time to information that’s going to help him or her grow his small business. I’ve also seen non-profits go down there. Many other libraries have to get access in this country.
Parental computing skills—parents are scared to death of this. One of my colleagues in the administration was talking about how he did a Lexis search on the Internet. 75 percent of the mentions of Internet were negative. Censorship. Violence. Child abduction. Addiction. Parents are scared. But a librarian by their side who shows them the great things on the Net and how as a parent they can make this a compelling opportunity for them and their children and for their family is something that’s really important. If you’re a parent living in most communities, where are you really going to go if you want to understand the power of the Net? I think libraries can serve an incredibly important role there.
Broadband access and music and videos and graphics, we’re still talking about many households not having access to it at home. Increasingly, libraries will be the access points for broadband. What does that mean for you? What will be the implications when people come in and say, “I want to download Napster and I want to burn CD’s.”? Interesting legal and institutional issues. Palm download sources. A lot of times I have my Palm. I’d love to walk into a library and download Avantgo. If you’re not using it, you should. It’s great stuff. I spend more time online reading the USA Today or ESPN. I load up my Palm with different papers, the New York Times, in something this size and the next day do it again. Libraries can become public access points for those applications. They can help people learn how to use them because they’re another form of information.
There are 15 million people using Palms or Handsprings. Fifteen million people. Four years ago almost nobody was using them except for technicians. Fifteen million now and that number will only grow. E-books. When I walked through the exhibit hall the first exhibit I saw was e-book. What’s the role of libraries working with e-book manufacturers? Will it take hold or will it be the equivalent of an 8-track tape? And what are the implications for libraries of e-books and should you be working or not working and will authors be happy or not happy? Interesting questions. Will libraries be places where you get access to e-books or use it in a lending capacity?
A lot of us in the administration tried to figure out how to create green spaces—places on the Web where families or parents or people could feel comfortable. Kind of the equivalent—the Internet equivalent of public broadcasting. You know if you go there, there’s a certain ethic that will be there. Green spaces may not be the right solution, but are there ways that libraries can create national or international or local spaces that a parent knows, if the child is in there, that it’s safe or the information in there has had—I don’t want to say quality control in terms of censorship, but do you know how much bad information is on the net about finances or medical information or child rearing? When I went to the library as a child and I wanted to know where I could find the best book on Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin, I’d ask the librarian as an information specialist. That will become the role of libraries in an information age. How do we make sense of all the information that’s online? That’s part of bridging the digital divide, making people literate on how this information should be used. There’s so much incredible opportunity if you just seize it. And I’m really worried that there’s a lot of individual learning going on, but we haven’t figured out a way to share that learning. Because none of us have the resources that we need, we can’t afford to make mistakes that somebody else has already made. One of the things I hope that comes out of the meetings today and the meetings this week as we talk about the digital divide is how do we do a better job of sharing? How do we do a better job of making folks understand what we already understand, or if we’ve hit a brick wall, how do we find the people who already hit the wall and find another way around, under, or through the wall because a lot of us are struggling with the same issues? Some have solved it. No one person is smarter than all of us together. If we all share the information, we’ll all do a better job in making progress on these tough issues.
There was a story about four weeks ago in one of the local newspapers about the Martin Luther King library renovation. I think all you know this is Martin Luther King weekend. Right down the street is the Martin Luther King Library. It’s a national library because it is in the nation’s capital. I was reading about the renovation and it struck me how little they were talking about technology or designing in technology. It seems technology was something assumed, throwing in a computer base. You know, we’re in the year 2001 and we need to start designing in, we need to think from the beginning how we want this technology to affect certain policies and changes.
This is a city where 80 percent of the residents who are African American don’t have access to the Internet in three of the four wards according to statistics I’ve been able to find. Most schools have only had it three or four years. Most libraries are not open at nights. Most minority owned businesses, black, Asian, or Latino, don’t have access to the Internet. Most of the non-profits don’t use the Internet well.
In designing a new library that’s going to serve those folks, why aren’t we thinking about how we’ll use the technology for precisely the kinds of purposes it should be used? It’s kind of like the handicapped ramps in America. You can either go in and retrofit or you can design it in the beginning. One is much more satisfactory and one is much more smart and much more cost effective. What I’m worried about is that people will think of a library as a static institution and not the dynamic institution it needs to be. I hope this library here in Washington, D.C. will be a model of what every library could be because it should be the showcase. If Mr. Bush is a compassionate conservative, maybe he can find a few extra dollars to make that library what it should be. I might make that suggestion to him.
I think addressing the digital divide can put some meat and bones on the skeleton that is the compassionate conservative construct. What does it mean? Let’s talk about it. This may be one place where it can mean something. I don’t think technology means anything unless it means improving lives. Unless it means we’re going to educate people and get access to information or cure some of the medical problems we have or unless it means people will have information about nutrition or unless it means connecting families and communities, then none if of this discussion about technology and tools matters. It’s not about the tools and technology. It’s about how it improves people’s lives. That’s the debate we have to get back to. We’ve talked about access. 90 percent of libraries have access. We have access. Now what are the outcomes we’re trying to effect from that access? That’s really what each of us needs to start twisting our minds around over the next several months and years.
Let me close by quoting Martin Luther King. Thirty years ago he was talking about technology. It was an obscure reference in a speech I found. In fact, it was his last speech here in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. Four days before he died he said, “There can be no gainsaying about the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. That is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation. Modern man through scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance. Through our genius we have made this world a neighborhood. And yet we—we have not yet had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.” I don’t think there are better words to close. We have a global neighborhood. Let’s use the technology available to us to make this a global brotherhood. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: Larry, thanks so much for a thought-provoking presentation.
Our distinguished panel represents a variety of perspectives from which to examine the digital divide. Each has met the challenge of bridging the gap in a different way. We will hear from all four panelists in turn and then have the opportunity for questions and answers. It gives me great pleasure to introduce our panel. Jorge Schement, who will serve as moderator, is co-director of the Information Policy Institute and professor of Communications and Information Policy at Penn State University. He is familiar to many librarians who studied with him at Rutgers and UCLA. At the FCC, Jorge Schement worked with Reed Hundt to conduct the seminal research that led to recognition of the digital divide. He has advised leading policymakers as well as the President and is author of the telecommunications statement of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Karen Buller is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Indian Telecommunications Institute, a dynamic, Native-founded and run organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico. NITI is dedicated to using the power of electronic technologies to provide American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaskan Native communities with educational tools, equal opportunity, and a voice in self-determination. Karen participates in many public policy discussions and is an active contributor of an Indian perspective in digital divide discourse. She also provides advice about telecommunications development on reservations.
Laurie Lipper, our third panelist, is co-founder and co-director of The Children’s Partnership, a national non-profit, non-partisan child advocacy organization with offices in Los Angeles and Washington whose mission is to inform leaders and the public about the needs of America’s 70 million children, and to engage them in ways that benefit children. The Children’s Partnership authored the document “Online Content For Low-Income And Underserved Americans, The Digital Divide’s New Frontier.”
And finally, Mark Lloyd is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, which works to bring civil rights organizations and community groups into the debate over the future of our media environment. Previously, Mark worked as a communications attorney in Washington, representing both commercial and non-commercial communications organizations. He also has nearly 20 years of experience as a print and broadcast journalist and has worked as a reporter and producer at NBC and CNN. Mark represents the civil rights forum in various public policy arenas and he provides advice to non-profits on digital divide issues.
Please welcome our panel. (Applause.)
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thank you, Nancy. I’ve asked the panelists to keep their remarks short, of course, as sort of the standard American challenge to presenters, and I’ve asked them to pick from something that they’re working on or that they’ve been thinking about to throw out to the audience that they hope will be provocative. So there ought to be plenty of nuggets to pick from the group. Nancy asked me to talk a little bit about the telecommunications agenda for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. This is the second year that I’ve written it for them and so what I’ve done is boiled it down a somewhat lengthy document into a few short points for you. I’d like to title my talk. It gives me a way of focusing. So the title of this one is “In Search Of The Future.”
In the information age, Latinos are confronted with opportunities and dilemmas. On the one hand, their growing numbers attract the attention of retail corporations and Spanish reigns as the language of commerce across the United States. On the other hand, the coming of the information age threatens to marginalize Latinos, leaving them—as Larry has measured in a number of ways—on the other side of a digital divide. If we’re to bridge that divide, Latino policymakers will have to hold a place in America’s future by articulating the vision of the Latino community as an information society. So there are four points where we can make a difference. First is access. Access is the essential ingredient in any democracy since it is the gateway to free speech and participation. Without free speech and participation, you’ve got something, but you don’t have a democracy. Consequently, we should hold it as a goal to be pursued first and last. But we should not take access nor universal service, which is the policy that operationalizes access for us in the United States, as a fixed concept. Just a quick example. If mastery of the Internet as a tool can help Latinos participate in democratic discourse, become better consumers and partner business-to-business, then we should consider including access to the Internet in our current definition of universal service. What should we do? Well, we should promote access systematically by disseminating lessons and best practices to community organizations that can make a difference in local circumstances. Lessons should be disseminated in channels readily accessible to Latino organizations across the U.S. We’re not standing alone in our country. We should explore partnerships with African Americans and rural constituencies.
Let me make a point about those partnerships. 25 years from now, half of all children in the United States are going to be minorities. Forty percent of all the workers in the labor force are going to be minorities. But 75 percent of the retirees will be Anglos. It seems to me we’re going to need some partnerships for them to work together.
So secondly, we should pay attention to digital literacy. For Latinos, education broadly defined, functional access depends on information skills that most Latinos lack. Ironically, failure to acquire the skills of digital literacy not only bypasses Latinos. It also penalizes them. In a job market where corporations fall short of their employment needs, American business imports skilled labor from abroad while we lose our own children to hopelessness in dead-end jobs. That’s not a recipe for continued stability. What should we do? We should encourage public and private investment in traditional education but also in continuing education for adults. And that’s where public libraries come in. We should make use of and invest in public libraries with their great potential for teaching digital literacy and other access skills to all ages. And we should incorporate Internet search skills in elementary school curricula.
I had a shock teaching undergraduates this year. I teach about 200 undergraduates in an Introduction to Telecommunications course. I asked them how many were comfortable searching the Internet. Only about 2 percent knew how to search the Internet but they all knew how to download from Napster. They thought that was knowing how to search the Internet.
What did we do? We sent them to the library to get oriented.
A third area we should pay attention to is commerce and consumers. First and foremost, we should acknowledge that there is a digital divide for Latino businesses. It isn’t just households. New entrants are laying high-speed optical fiber lines in order to attract the lucrative business market but they are doing so by bypassing Latino communities and omitting them from these networks. We did a survey of 25 different cities to see where the optical fiber was going. Sometimes you see it being laid right down a street which demarks the Anglo side of town from the Hispanic side of town and turning up away from the minority neighborhoods. If local small businesses are to compete, especially minority businesses, they will have to migrate out of those communities and closer to the optical fiber lines. When they do that, barrios and neighborhoods will be even further impoverished than they are now. So what should we do? We should provide incentives to migrate Latino businesses online. We can help them do that. We should work to keep Latino businesses in their neighborhoods and provide incentives to upgrade their information capabilities while demanding at the same time that telecommunications firms provide hookups to high speed fiber cables in those neighborhoods. And we should provide incentives for small businesses to upgrade their employees’ information skills. Since most Latinos, in fact it’s true for most minorities, most work in minority businesses, we should work right there to upgrade their information skills.
Lastly, community and the E-rate. Experience teaches us that community institutions need assistance when it comes to successfully filing applications for E-rate funding. It doesn’t just happen. And it doesn’t just happen when you file.
However, keep in mind that the E-rate alone is not the answer to vigorous Latino communities or indeed any minority community. Local institutions, schools, libraries, public interest media, associations, and churches form the basis for community growth. All of them should be considered as part of an integrated approach toward universal access and community development. All should be recognized as the pillars of the information age.
What should we do? Well, computers, technical support, and training should be part of any community investment and of any planning project. If they’re not, they don’t come in later for the most part. If they come in at the beginning, they’re part of the game and they will continue to be part of the game. We should explore public sites such as kiosks to provide free Internet access and extend the potential for Internet access training through schools and libraries. Latino communities are going to continue to thrive as bilingual communities in the 21st century. Accordingly public information access should incorporate Spanish language capability and content. Now a coda.
If that road laid out sounds intimidating to you, it’s because it is. And if it sounds like it will be very difficult to achieve since our history indicates that, it’s only because it will be difficult to achieve.
Nevertheless, it’s also worth taking. Only when Latinos secure an equal footing with their fellow Americans will we have an information age that’s an information age for all. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Our next speaker is Karen Buller. She’s President of the National Indian Telecommunications Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Karen?
>> KAREN BULLER: (Speaking Indian.) It’s an honor for me being here with you. I’ve had a lifetime interest in libraries and I’m on the national board of a library organization, Libraries for the Future. And I think it’s an important thing and it’s an honor for me to speak to you today. I was curious while I was sitting here, where are the Native American librarians? Yeah. Can you guys stand up? Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
Those are the folks that are going to be your helpers after this talk and can answer all your questions about what I said. Right? And help me out on that.
I just wanted to present a few facts and there’s a hook over here that Jorge that will pull me off if I talk too long so I need to go quickly. I want to talk a little bit about Native Americans and the Internet. I’m a member of the Comanche tribe. I don’t know how many of you know this, but we’re a matriarchy. So that means I was raised by lots of bossy women. And in the time in history that I was raised, that was a great asset. I highly recommend it to anyone who can. It’s been a big help.
Anyway, what I would like to show you today is some of the basic things about Native Americans in terms of access. We’ve all been talking about access. What I’d like to talk about is what is important to the Native American community in terms of the Internet. There are three basic things, and we’ll talk about two of them today. Access is the first one. Content is the second. And policy. And the reason we’re just talking about the first two is because those are the areas that you’re most involved with.
Larry talked about a report that came out from Commerce, and actually, this is it that I’m showing up here. You can see the white Americans have like about 98 percent, and these are the ’97–’98 figures that they came out with. And then the pink, those are African Americans. And the yellow are Hispanic Americans. And the Commerce report didn’t even put on Native Americans, but I did. See, they’re way down there on the bottom.
Less than 50 percent of the homes in the United States of Native Americans even have a telephone. So when we’re talking about having access to the Internet, most of us access it through a phone and if you don’t even have a phone, you can’t get the Internet either. And let’s talk for a minute about what that really means. If there are less than half of the people in your community that have a phone and in rural Navajo only 17 percent of the homes have a telephone, what does that mean to you? It means that you’re going to die of a heart attack because you can’t get to a phone to get an ambulance. Or it means that you are going to die of a diabetic overdose because you can’t get to help and you can’t call someone. And it means that you may even die from an allergic reaction because you can’t get to a phone. You have to go 20 miles and get in a car to go to your closest neighbor who has a telephone to call for help. So it’s a huge health issue. And I know many people personally whose grandmothers, whose fathers, whose personal relation have died because of a lack of a telephone. So it’s not just a nice thing to be able to call Aunt Minnie on Sunday afternoon. It’s a life and death issue with our community.
This is a map that shows all the reservations in the United States. They are green. And this is a map that shows all the cell coverage in the United States. And this is a map that shows in yellow where the cell coverage overlaps with the Indian reservations. I don’t think I have to make a big point in telling you there’s not much connection there. This is a map where each numeral shows a tribal college in the United States. And each one of the red dots is where there’s an Internet 2 site at a major university. There’s not much overlap there either. And the tribal colleges would like to have access to this.
So, what are the challenges in accomplishing our goals as Native Americans? Access. You know, the Constitution and the FCC say that we can have equal access like every other American in the United States and that every American who wants to have a phone should be able to. Let me show you a few statistics. I’ve told you already, you can see in the blue, that over 90 percent, in fact about 98 percent of white Americans—or all Americans have access in the United States. In the red, you can see that less than half of all Native Americans have access to phones. And then the butterscotch shows the Navajos. The T- rate in New York City is about $400 a month. In Santa Fe for my business it’s $1,800 and in Kasigluk, Alaska, they pay $4,200 not for a T1 but just for a 56 kilobyte line.
Is that equal access? I don’t think so.
Okay, so aside from the rural Native Americans, let’s talk about the urban Native Americans. Over half of us live in urban areas. And this is where we get close to home in talking about you. How many of you are librarians in a rural area—I mean, in an urban city? Okay. And how many of you have programs for Native Americans at your libraries? I see one hand. I see two hands. That’s good to know. But there aren’t very many. And I’d challenge you to ask yourself what you can do for Native Americans in your libraries.
Okay. What do Native Americans do once they get technology? Well, they preserve their languages. That’s something that we’re doing a lot of at NITI and I’d be happy to show you examples of that if we have time later on. They develop tourism on the Internet. They advertise Native products on the Internet. They conduct political campaigns on the Internet. That’s a new thing that’s coming and that’s being done now. And they create culturally relevant curricula. And I just wanted to show you a few examples. This is the front end of our Web page. It’s a little squished. But it’s www.NITI.org and if you click on the education tab you’ll see lots of examples of Native-made curricula in math and science and art and history. We have examples of virtual museums, of language preservation, and I invite you to look at that and use that in your libraries.
We also have a little lesson that Native Americans can use to know how to surf the Internet, and that’s under the education button, too.
But let’s talk about what Native Americans want from libraries. What we want from you as librarians. We want access to information just like every other American. And we want access to the Internet because most of us don’t have access in our own homes. Those of us that live in urban areas. So we’d like to use the libraries to get our access to the Internet.
We want accuracy in your collections about our tribes. When I go to the library, I’d like to read something accurate about Comanches. Not something that was false or from a different point of view that was written by maybe a German person or something. But I want to read something that’s accurate. Also I’d like the staff to be accepting and open when I come in and to welcome me. And I’d like special programs for Native Americans.
One of the libraries that we’re working with in Libraries for the Future is planning to have a Native American night once a month when Native Americans get to have first crack at the computers for Internet access. It helps bring Native Americans into the library. And the last thing we want is respect. We just want respect when we come into your library.
So, I’d like to end by telling you an interesting story. When I first started working with Native Americans, I went to the Navajo reservation. The reservation is as big as the state of Ohio. So can you picture that in your mind? But it’s plopped in the middle of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. And on that reservation there is only one public library. So can you imagine how that would be in the state of Ohio? I was talking to a man who runs access for the chapter houses. Chapter houses are sort of like county seats. This is probably the easiest way to explain it to you. And he said, “When can I come and do information on the Internet to talk to the other people who run all the other chapter houses?” And I said, “I’d love to do that,” but I was thinking in my mind, “I wonder how I’m going to do this because they speak Navajo and the few phrases I know have to do with eating.” You know, like “pass the mutton” and that sort of thing. So I didn’t know how far that would go in talking to them. And so I said, “What would you like know about the Internet?” He said, “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about the Internet. The only thing that I know is that my daughter went to college and she went there to study technology and now she won’t come home.” And he ended by saying maybe if we have technology on the reservation, our children will come home. Thank you. (Applause.)
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thank you, Karen. I think we’re picking up a theme here that in the information age, children are important. Our next speaker is Laurie Lipper, co-founder, co-director of The Children’s Partnership here in Washington, D.C. Laurie?
>> LAURIE LIPPER: Thank you, Jorge. And thank you, Nancy, for including me in this important and timely panel today. And I’d also like to take a second to thank all of you listening to the panelists and just reflecting on libraries. As I sat here I realized it was my dad, who was a first generation Italian immigrant, who brought me to the library for the first time. It was a few years ago I brought my own son to a library to get his library card. What an important institution and a key institution it’s been in my life and in the communities I’ve grown up with! So thank you for having me and also for all that you do.
The Children’s Partnership has worked very closely with the American Library Association and with the libraries across the country in our work. So it makes it especially delightful to be here. Our mission at The Children’s Partnership is to identify emerging issues that impact large numbers of American kids, particularly those who are low income or those likely to be left behind. We take sort of a different tack to advocacy in that we develop a research base in areas where there is no pulled-together research base and then we develop practical programs and solutions to the problems we identify. We then field test those programs, evaluate them, and then work to do public policies or public/private partnerships to bring those programs to scale.
In ’93, when we started The Children’s Partnership, we recognized that the rapidly emerging digital society was probably one of the most profound things that was changing the way children learn, play, communicate, and prepare for their future as workers, as citizens and as parents and just about every other role in life, and that it was absolutely critical that there be a children’s agenda in the evolution of the digital society.
We developed a program called America’s Families in the Digital Age that laid out the baseline of how this was going to impact kids and that set forth a children’s agenda. This is the report. And I just show it to you because librarians across the country were some of the earliest users of that report when we put it out in 1994. All of our materials are available at our Web site which I’ll give at the end.
We also then developed a parents’ program, Parents and the Information Superhighway. We once again partnered with the ALA and worked with advisors from the ALA to develop and distribute it to nearly a million parents, often through libraries.
Finally, when we began to work on digital divide issues, we partnered, thanks to the California Wellness Foundation, with community technology centers in California—11 centers in very low income neighborhoods to spend six years to really address digital divide issues from the ground up. The report that I’m going to talk to you about today on content comes from our work day today in communities, very diverse, as you know, in California, from Native American tribes in northern California to border towns in the southern part of California to look at digital divide issues on the ground.
We saw very quickly as we helped communities gain access to technology and connectivity to train staff and users and to provide a lot of support and infrastructure that immediately the question came up, once you have people online, what’s online for them? I know that this is a question that many librarians are also asking and are very engaged in finding solutions.
At The Children’s Partnership, we then engaged in a year long research project and we published the results of that research last March, in March 2000, in a report, also available on the Web site, called, “Online Content For Low Income And Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide’s New Frontier.”
Just to give you a little bit of background on the research methodology, because it’s a new area, we started with focus groups with end users all over the country, but primarily in the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest.
We interviewed center directors, librarians, lots of librarians, literacy, education experts, and a whole range of people who worked with low income and underserved communities.
We then, partly based on our interviews with them, selected 1,000 Web sites and developed a very in-depth content analysis tool. These were sites that were oriented towards these communities to see what was available for low income users, what they needed and wanted, and how to get what they needed.
We then field tested all of our findings both with users and spent three months in review and analysis with experts in developing an agenda.
I wanted to really focus on our four top findings about online content. I think it’s especially relevant for you who are at the crossroads between the burgeoning online world and the end user, particularly those who use public access points and often the library.
The number one overwhelming finding was that people across the board, this was across race, ethnicity and location, want very, very local content. Low income Americans want local housing, local jobs, local culture, local entertainment, local education, local children’s programs, local childcare. Very, very local content. And yet in our survey of a thousand sites most likely to have this kind of content, only 6 percent of the sites had the information. We estimate that there are about 21 million Americans who are looking for this.
I just want to pause for one second and say this cuts to the heart of how the Internet content is evolving. With mega-mergers and huge commercial interests developing content that is pre-packaged, it tends to bypass the needs of this community and thus possibly create even more of a divide.
Our second finding was that there are 44 million Americans, roughly 22 percent of U.S. adults, whose reading literacy level is the equivalent of fifth grade or less. And yet if you look at online content, only 1 percent of the sites we surveyed had any information specifically designed for this audience. Of course, the irony, as many of you know, is that computers and the Internet offer tremendous potential to help overcome literacy and writing and calculation barriers for so many people. But this effort is still in its infancy.
Third, there are 32 million Americans who use a primary language other than English, and yet approximately 87 percent of the documents on the Internet are written in English. In our survey of the thousand Web sites, only 2 percent had multilingual information, and most of that was developed outside of the country or not in the local community.
Fourth, it’s well known that there are distinctive cultural practices and ways of consuming information from different cultures and ethnicities, but of the information that we saw in the thousand Web sites, only 1 percent had referred to any of that research or tried to make the content culturally relevant.
In all of the categories I mentioned, even when we found great stuff, and there are some good models out there, it was extremely difficult to find because the search engines and much of the search capability really isn’t geared toward identifying or finding and aggregating this information. So this is another area that requires some real work.
In sum, there are conservatively about 50 million Americans with specific needs and wants for content that currently are not being served. Some of the data from the Commerce Department shows that these are precisely the Americans who want the information to help themselves or their families with employment or educational opportunities. The good news in the report that I’ll refer you to is a great list of what we call the showcase of great sites that are making strides in this. There are some wonderful examples.
What does this mean for libraries? Historically, the community institution charged specifically with bringing the benefits of information to all Americans or all people who live in their community.
I see three challenges and opportunities.
One is to think of the library as a leader. Not just a resource. To recognize that through new technologies, information can be easily diffused throughout the community. And I think it’s important for libraries to realize that information can be found anywhere and that it’s for libraries to take the opportunity to partner with community technology centers and other institutions to bring the knowledge and great content to other community institutions.
Second, I think it would be great for libraries to begin to see themselves a little bit as content creators—as houses, homes, where local content and other content can be created right in communities. And I think this could be a tremendously important, vigorous effort, especially as civic functions and the opportunity to participate in the democratic process move online.
And third, in terms of young people, librarians are a great repository for understanding information literacy. This is a skill that enables young people, especially with this new technology, to become creators of content, and all people to pass along the importance of information literacy skills so that their content is the high quality content we want for all Americans.
Thank you again for having me here today. (Applause.)
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Our next speaker is Mark Lloyd. Mark is Executive Director of the Civil Rights Forum On Communication Policy also here in Washington. Mark?
>> MARK LLOYD: Good afternoon. I’ve been thinking long and hard about Jorge’s and Nancy’s request that I be provocative.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: I didn’t think you’d have to think very hard about that.
>> MARK LLOYD: I don’t have to think very hard about it. These are provocative times. But there were some other things that I also wanted to sort of talk with you about. Much of what I wanted to say has been said by Larry or Karen or Laurie or some of the other folks who have been up here. I give a usual speech about the digital divide and I’ll say it very briefly. We will not solve the digital divide until we solve the power divide in America. There is a health divide. There is an education divide. There is a wealth divide. So of course now that we’re in an information society, there is a digital divide. There are no surprises here.
I think Jorge may have said this, librarians are not only custodians of books. I would change it a little bit. Librarians are custodians of our sacred American traditions. There is a tradition in America that places shared knowledge for knowledge sake above commerce. There is a tradition in America which places contemplation and simple reading above noise and entertainment.
That’s how I thought of libraries. I thought of libraries really as quiet, sacred places. I think many of us here on the panel have had the same experiences where we didn’t have information at home but we could find that information at the library. My experience was that I didn’t have the information even in school, but I could go to my library. I knew my local librarian. My local librarian was much more important than my local mayor.
But it also occurred to me that libraries are really uniquely suited as a powerful symbol in America. You think about movies like The Music Man. We have two polar opposites here. We have a slick-talking guy coming to the school talking about pool halls, right? The other symbol, oddly enough, is not really the school. It’s the librarian. That’s a very powerful American symbol.
There’s a wonderful movie that may still be out called Men of Honor. It’s about the first black Navy diver. And one of the things that he has to figure out is that not only does he need the physical capacity to be a diver, he also needs to understand what happens with his body when he is underwater for very long. Where does he go to get that information? He goes to the local library.
What an important and valuable symbol for America about what and who we are. And we need you now more than ever. We need you in our local communities now more than ever. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve talked with over the past month whose shining symbol was the Supreme Court. Was. (Applause.)
The library is a temple. It is a place that says something about what we believe is important in our society. It is a conversation about what’s important to this community—“Look at our library.” I don’t think we think the same thing about commerical institutions. We don’t say with pride, “Look at our bookstore,” frankly. I don’t think we think the same thing when we say, “Look at the new movie house that’s in town. But we do say that about our libraries.
There are a number of very great libraries in this area. My daughter goes to school in Gaithersburg in Montgomery county and uses the Montgomery County library system It’s an extraordinary system and I’ve been in that library with my daughter many times. She does her homework on the Net. She has a number of computers at home. But she still goes to the library because she’s in the habit of going to the library and there’s something very different about going through books, frankly, than there is about searching online.
There’s information that will surprise you going through books that surprises you in a different way online. So she still uses the public library.
There’s another wonderful library system in this area, and it’s the Fairfax library system. One of the things I told Jorge I was going to do was go around to the libraries in Washington, D.C., to see them. Just to see the status of this temple.
As a symbol.
As a needed and trusted symbol in our communities.
And what sad places are here in the District. The District of Columbia is a little less than 8 square miles. There are about 520,000 people who live in the District of Columbia. The library budget in the District of Columbia is about $26 million. There are about 22 library institutions in the District of Columbia. There’s a kiosk and there are regional libraries and community libraries and there’s a main library. About 430 full-time equivalents. I guess I learned that from doing the research. It’s sort of library language. These aren’t full-time staff people. . .full-time equivalents are full-time hours. When you compare the Fairfax system—again, I used to live in Fairfax, Virginia—it’s an extraordinary system. It’s about 199 square miles, not 8 square miles. There are about a million residents. Almost twice the size of the District of Columbia. There are about 20 libraries altogether. And the budget in Fairfax is comparable to the one in D.C. It’s about $26 million. Again, much larger population, much larger size area to cover, and about the same number of libraries.
In Montgomery County, about 22 library sites. Again, fairly comparable. Residents, a little less than Fairfax, about 855,000. Budget, a little bit more. About $29 million. $3 million more than Fairfax County. And the facilities are incredible. The amount of teaching that goes on in the library is incredible. The hours. All the libraries in Montgomery County and Fairfax County are open from about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. Monday through Friday. There are Saturday hours and some have some Sunday hours. In the District of Columbia, the hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and a couple of days a week they’ll be opened until 9:00. There’s one library, the Martin Luther King library that’s open relatively late.
Let me tell you what the library in Washington, D.C., says about technology. “The recent donations from Microsoft, Gates library telecommunication trust fund brought computer networks for the public use. There are constantly long waiting lists to use existing computers and classes routinely fill up the same day they’re announced.” Well, the classes teach about six people at a time. Six people. “Meanwhile, the staff is hampered by the lack of computers for reference use. Their ability to perform Internet searches to respond to reference inquiries is virtually non-existent. At present, they must vie for a spot to use the same donated computers.” Donated for public use. “Staff technology training is a constant request for employees at all levels.”
I must admit, I’m not quite sure I understand what’s going on here. We have more libraries, I think, per square mile than any other surrounding jurisdiction. Fewer computers. Donations from major institutions that want to help the D.C. library. But the budget is substantial. The number of full-time equivalents is about the same at the three libraries. The need in the District of Columbia is much, much greater than it is in those other two communities.
I don’t think the problem is technology. I do think that part of the problem at least is the fact that we don’t have much of a conversation in our communities about what we’re facing, about what is important, about what is wrong. We know about celebrities who are divorcing. We know about all sorts of other things that are not especially important to us in our society, in our community. But about how we are using our resources and whether those resources are being well used at the local level, we don’t have that conversation.
Libraries, as I said, are an important and potent symbol of what is important. You play a critical role in what gets discussed in your community. I strongly urge you to be as vocal as you can about the importance of libraries as places for community discussion, about the importance of libraries as a symbol of the institution, about the need for libraries to be temples of learning in our communities, not sad places to walk into. And if you’ll allow me to add –- I think you should demand more of your colleagues. As a closing note, unfortunately I must say that most of that community conversation doesn’t go on over the Internet. It goes on over your local television station. And with that, I think that’s being provocative enough. I’ll let it go. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thank you, Mark. We have time for a few questions. I’m going to ask you to come to the microphone, state your name, and please direct your question to a member of the panel so we can at least keep things moving along fairly fluidly. So I encourage you to come forward. Yes, sir?
>> Yes, I’m Alfred Kagan, I’m the Councilor for the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association and I just have a short comment that anyone might want to respond to.
I want to come back to the point that Mark Lloyd made at the beginning of his talk when he talked about the question of power. Because I think this is really crucial for us as librarians. You know, the digital divide is really just the latest manifestation of an information gap that goes back all the way through American history and throughout countries around the world. We’ve always had an information gap between the richest Americans and the poorest Americans.
The information gap parallels the gap between income and wealth in the United States and how that information and wealth gap is growing in our society. And so what we have heard from our panelists shows us, in fact, that librarians cannot address the digital divide or the information gap by ourselves and that we need to work in the context of the larger society. And this is where social responsibility comes in. This is the function of the Social Responsibilities Round Table— to bring up these larger questions about the context of our work.
So I hope that people will start thinking in a larger context of what it is that we do as librarians and how to bring social responsibility into our work and look at librarianship in its broadest possible context. Thank you.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thank you. Yes, ma’am?
>> Hi, I’m Maria Lawson from Brooklyn Public Library. And you’ve given us—all of the panelists have given us so much information that we can take back and use and I’m just wondering how we can have access to this text of the speeches that you’ve all given.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: I don’t know the answer to that.
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: The captioned text will be posted on the Web and it’s also been audiotaped. Thank you very much.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Yes, sir?
>> Hello, my name is Skip Auld. I’m from the Chesterfield, Virginia, Public Library. Our biggest issue is the divide between the City of Richmond and its library and the suburban county library such as the one I work in.
I wanted to ask Mr. Irving if you had any opportunity to address the COPA commission and what that experience was like, if you did. The commission on online child protection or whatever it was.
>> LARRY IRVING: No, I did not have the pleasure.
>> That’s too bad.
>> LARRY IRVING: I left government just about the time Congress—this whole commission was very interesting. They required my agency to be involved and gave us no money with which to be involved and so—which is, you know, another unfunded mandate from Congress. But their minds were already made up as to where they were going to be in Congress. And the membership of the commission was such that it was a pre-ordained conclusion, I thought, as to where it was going to come out. I was lucky that I didn’t—I would have been in a very difficult position because the people I would have been opposing were the people who wrote the checks for my former agency. So it would have been a very interesting debate. But I was fortunately not asked to testify because I might have been even shorter lived as an assistant secretary had I had a chance to testify.
>> Thank you. And I did want to thank Ms. Karen Buller. Your comments brought tears to my eyes.
>> My name is Norman Erickson and I run the job information center. What Laurie was talking about, the need for local information and the libraries being local developers and content providers, is something we started in my department on paper 25 years ago when people came in. I said, “I need a training class. I need a GED class.” We created lists that we have now taken from paper to electronic. And we’re constantly thinking about that, that need to develop the local resources.
But, Laurie, you’ll see one thing you forgot to tell us. Your Web site?
>> LAURIE LIPPER: Thank you. The Web site is: www.childrenspartnership.org. When you see the report, the Brooklyn Public Library is cited in it for your work on that specifically.
>> My name is Diane an Oh from San Jose, California. Laurie Lipper mentioned that for about 30 percent of the U.S. population English is not their first language, and only 2 percent of libraries provide multi-lingual access. I’d like to see if there’s any initiative ALA in promoting multi-lingual access for libraries.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Do you want to field that one? That’s for you.
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: I think certainly ALA has put a lot of emphasis on the issues of multi-lingual access and encouraged libraries to get more involved. And I think all of the groups that are dealing with multi-lingual access issues help us to formulate a way to address that better.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Just as a question from the audience, how many of you learned English as a second language? Okay. So there’s a number of us here. Good. Yes, ma’am?
>> Yes, my name is Rita Jones from City College in San Francisco and the data library learning resources. We’re one of the 106 community colleges. I want you to know we’re working on the issue of access. We’re open 7 days a week, 7:30 to 10:00 at night, just opened on Sundays. My question is, we have 54 languages spoken there and we have done linkages to our reference Web page and we have bilingual librarians, but the point that you mentioned about multi-lingual access is critical or there’s going to be more government funds to help librarians create Web pages or links or translate things into bilingual and can do it? I’m on www—never mind. City Colleges of San Francisco. If anybody knows, e-mail it to me. We have e-reference and e-circ so we’re really interested and also because of the 106 of us and because we educate more of the underserved and the—shall I say, less financially able to go on to colleges, these are the kinds of things that we’re really working hard to do and our—any help we can get from an outside agency, we really appreciate it.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thank you. Let’s hope in our transition to the information age we don’t lose the service ethic that characterizes American Libraries.
>> Howard Besser, UCLA. First a comment and then a question. At the end of your talk, Mr. Irving, you said, “It’s not about access. It’s about how it changes people’s lives.” And I think that’s very profound.
But it seems to me that most of the discourse that we have had around this is how can we make sure that the divides don’t get worse? And it seems like the discourse of the information age in the early days of the Clinton administration was how were digitization, the Internet, the information superhighway going to make things better? My observation is, it seems like we’re fighting kind of a battle just not to get—not to have that divide get bigger but to try to make it less.
Now, my question. The kind of discussion that we’ve had about divide has been, I think, very, very important and very critical and very on the point and there hasn’t been enough time even with an hour to cover things. But there’s a few things that were mentioned by the various speakers just in one sentence that I think are really critical. I’d like to hear those speakers elaborate a little bit more about them. And I’ll just mention three of them.
One is the issue of access to content. And I know that Miss Laurie Lipper talked the most about access to content and how that’s really critical. It’s not just access using technology. It’s access to content and having the right content out there.
But one angle that I didn’t really hear anyone talk about is access to content as more and more content is privatized and more and more content is more expensive and how that is going to contribute to the divide. So that’s one.
Secondly, several people talked about access and training people to be good users of information but I didn’t really hear the kind of important things about information literacy, that it’s not just training what buttons to push, it’s training people to be intelligent about evaluating those resources, about the relevance, the authoritativeness, the recency of those resources, the kinds of things that we as librarians do but are critically important.
And then the last thing that I’d like to hear a comment on, Jorge, you just said this just very briefly in passing. You said something about people as consumers of information. And Miss Laurie Lipper also said one sentence about this. What about the divide between people as consumers versus people as producers of information?
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Well, we’re probably going to respond to one of those. And since the last one overlapped two of us, Laurie, do you want to take a crack at that consumers versus producers?
>> LAURIE LIPPER: Yes, and one other comment, too. I think that the unique power of this new medium is allowing every user to be a producer. And what I would have elaborated on, time permitting, is that librarians are the great repositories of what makes quality content. The intellectual rigor, those skills that can be passed along to library users. It’s sort of a new area, I think, for libraries—new not in the sense of the knowledge base, but new in the sense of seeing it as a mission to bring that information literacy, in the active sense, to the community and encourage community members to be content producers.
I would say the second step is they then become content producers, librarians can become the repository for that content, so that the whole community can benefit and share from that and that’s a critical new role, I think.
The last thing I would say is—and Nancy, you actually said this to me—I think one of the most important things we can do collectively is not only have an agenda out there for how to protect people from bad content, but we should be pushing—envisioning and pushing for what is the important great content that must exist in the public domain. And there have been several conversations in Washington about green spaces or different kinds of civic spaces, but just to make it very simple, what is the content that every single person should have access to? Making sure that it gets created and constantly re-created is a very big agenda that I know libraries will have a role in.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thanks, Laurie. We’re at the time when people need to move to the rest of the sessions. We can have one more very quick question. Ma’am, you were next?
>> More than a question. Just a comment. I’m Loriene Roy. For those of you who would like to help with Native Americans, “If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything.” We work on promoting reading at schools and reservations. We have seven schools in three states. 3,000 children. We’re adding more schools in the summer, and we welcome your participation.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: Thanks.
>> I am Oralia Garza de Cortes, the president of REFORMA, the National Association t o Promote Libraries and Information Services to the Spanish Speaking. We are an ALA affiliate. And I want to thank all of you for this wonderful program. I feel that it has, indeed, been very thought provoking. But I would like to leave you with a thought provoking concept or idea and I’m sure you have thought about it. It would be wonderful if somewhere, somehow you could help us figure out how can we get more information. How can we get our citizens of this country who work, who clean our restaurants, who clean our hotels and prepare our foods in our restaurants who are not documented to use the Internet? And I’m specifically concerned about the children who are in schools. We are announcing a generation of children, who even though they are not legal citizens, because it is their constitutional right to attend public schools, they go to public schools but they are not allowed to go to college. Especially in California where we have laws that prohibit them from becoming educated.
So I just want to leave you with a thought provoking idea that we really need help in trying to figure out how we can use the Internet and online long distance education and even programs at the public library that will help us to get a student from California, for example, to get a degree from Texas or elsewhere. We need that kind of help. And I hope you will help us in that area. Thank you very much.
>> JORGE SCHEMENT: As a grandchild of illegal aliens, it seems to me that’s a theme that belongs at ALA. So thank you very much.
>> PRES. NANCY KRANICH: And thank all of you. Jorge, Laurie, Karen, and Mark. It was a marvelous program. And Larry.
I really hope all of you who have such good ideas and have been provoked by these discussions will be able to stay for the next hour so we can have talk about what ALA’s equity agenda should look like. I invite each of you to join us as we reconvene downstairs in Room 32/33. We have facilitators to help us talk on our own about some of the things we’ve heard and really start to begin to frame the equity agenda that ALA needs so we can speak out loudly and clearly about this important aspect of what we do.
Thank you again for coming today. I hope you will all join us downstairs. We need each and every one of your voices to participate in this important endeavor.
Our session is over. And I hope to see you downstairs. (Applause.)
(End of President’s Program.)
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