Digital Divide

[last update 26 September 2003]


Use of the Internet continues to grow rapidly but is still very uneven. Economic and literacy disadvantages, age differences, physical disabilities, and geographical differences can all create difficult barriers to access. Libraries are dedicated to providing information access to all and have been deeply concerned about the potential for the digital revolution to leave people behind.  Our agenda has had two primary focuses: fighting for policies and laws that address these issues, and helping libraries respond to the need to provide services to all their users.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS:  Equity of Access, Library Services /Development /Technology
RELATED ISSUES: Advocacy for Libraries, Copyright & Intellectual Property, Fees for Service, Government Information, Internet Content, Library Funding, Library Outreach


ALAction 2005:  By 2005, ALA will be recognized as the leading voice for equitable access to knowledge and information resources in all formats for all people.
Policy 1.3:  ALA will promote efforts to ensure that every individual has access to needed information at the time needed and in a format the individual can utilize, through provision of library and information services.


  • Protecting the e-rate and other universal service policies intended to address equitable access
  • Impact of e-government trends on the digital divide
  • Implementing in libraries accessibility requirements for digital services


  • ALA Office for Information Technology Policy/OITP Advisory Committee
  • ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach /OLOS Advisory Committee
  • ALA Divisions


  • Benton  Foundation


  • 1925 - The ALA Committee on Library Extension was established, to work towards extension of library services to unserved areas in the U.S.
  • 1936 - The Library Extension Board and Committee on Planning issued The Equal Chance: Books Help to Make It.
  • 1939 - Federal Aid for Libraries was published, urging federal support for libraries.
  • 1956 - The Library Services Act (introduced in 1951) was signed into law. Between 1957 and 1964, this Act extended library service to more than 40 million people living in areas with less than 10,000 population.
  • 1964 - The Library Services and Construction Act was signed (reauthorized into the 1990s).
  • 1968 - The Special Council Committee on Freedom of Access to Libraries report to the ALA Council: "Therefore we unequivocally suggest that the development and improvement of library services to the culturally disadvantaged be viewed as a major goal of the American Library Association as long as it may be necessary."
  • 1969 - The Coordinating Committee on Library Service to the Disadvantaged (est. 1968) published Library Service to the Disadvantaged; A Study Based on Responses to Questionnaires from Public Libraries Serving Populations of Over 15,000.
  • 1972 - The ALA Office for Library Service to the Disadvantaged and Unserved was established, at the direction of the ALA Council.  (now Office for Literacy and Outreach) A standing Advisory Committee was also established.
  • 1975 - ALA committed to cooperation with NCLIS in support of Toward a National Program for Library and Information Services: Goals for Action.
  • 1978 - A special task force appointed by ALA President Eric Moon presented "Toward a Conceptual Foundation for a National Information Policy" for discussion: "All information must be available to all people in all formats purveyed through all communication channels and delivered at all levels of comprehension.  If any one of these five qualities is compromised, the whole is enervated, and the national enterprise as a consequence suffers."
  • 1989 - A pre-WHCLIS "position paper" in American Libraries framed the rationale for ALA's engagement in national policy advocacy:  "Today's public libraries and increasingly those of the future must be enabled to function within a nationwide and even global information infrastructure.  In a world increasingly dependent upon knowledge and the ability to acquire it, the problems of those with limited access to information will only be exacerbated...."
  • 1991 - ALA Council adopted "Library Services to the Poor": " is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies."
  • 1991 - The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) published Citizen Rights and Access to Electronic Information.
  • 1992 - ALA President Patricia Glass Schuman held a conference-within-a-conference focused on "Your Right to Know: Librarians Make It Happen": "...We will not live in a true information society unless - and until - public policy makers recognize that an informed citizenry is a public good that benefits us all.  We will not live in a true information society, we will not achieve equal opportunity and justice, unless - and until - all people have the library services they need to learn, live, work, participate, ad enjoy our democracy."
  • 1993 - ALA and LITA, in collaboration with CLR and with support from the National Science Foundation, held an invitational Forum for National Library Associations on "Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Policy Issues," resulting in publication of "Principles for the Development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII)."
  • 1995 - As part of the implementation of ALA Goal 2000, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy was established, with a standing Advisory Committee.
  • 1995 - ALA's 1995-2000 legislative agenda articulated "digital divide" concerns: "The [ALA's] legislative agenda is based on the belief that libraries are key to providing fair and equitable access to information in the 21st century...Every library should  be a major, interconnected, information access point for the widest range of information seekers, particularly those who have no other way onto the information superhighway...[ALA should] seek appropriate and affordable telecommunications rates and financing for libraries...[and] explore the potential of universal service as a means of ensuring some level of equal access for all segments of the public...."
  • 1996 - The Library Services and Technology Act [LSTA] was passed, with increased focus on information access through technology and on information empowerment through special services.
  • 1996 - As part of the implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (the "e-rate" program) was established, supported by ALA, working with the Education and Library Networks Coaliltion (EdLINC).
  • 2000 - The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law, to go into effect April 20, 2001, placing restrictions on the use of funding available through the LSTA, Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Universal Service discount program (e-rate), in the form of requirements that schools and libraries have acceptable use policies and technology to block certain material from being accessed on the Internet.  ALA filed suit in March, 2001, to prevent implementation in public libraries.  CIPA, as it applied to public libraries, was enjoined in March, 2002.  CIPA was upheld in a plurality decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (2003).
  • 2002 - ALA adopted Principles for the Networked World, developed by a broad coalition of ALA, ALA Divisions and other library associations.  The Principles defined six broad areas of policy: intellectual freedom, privacy, intellectual property, infrastructure, equitable access, and content.
  • 2003 - ALA President Carla Hayden selected Equity of Access as her area of focus.

Issue Summaries

Banner that reads, "ALAhead to 2010"