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The Role of Public Libraries in Bridging the Digital Divide

According to a research article published in 2014, the digital divide “refers to the unequal access to information technologies and the internet between those who are “information-haves” and those who are “information have-nots.”’ The Covid-19 Pandemic has highlighted a number of issues regarding the availability and affordability of broadband internet connection within a number of communities in Canada.

In Canada, many rural communities and First Nations reserves are placed at a disadvantage when seeking to obtain broadband internet services. In 2019, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commision (2019) published a report stating that “only 37.2% of rural communities and 27.7% of First Nations reserve areas” had access to generally accepted speeds of unlimited broadband. 

Public libraries serve a crucial role in bridging the digital divide, as well as facilitating skills to navigate, evaluate and use information from the web. Stephanie Vokey, a coordinator of marketing and public relations at Richmond Public Library, said that government restrictions during the pandemic have limited access to computer usage which some local community members rely on.

“We recognize that there are vulnerable populations in Richmond… [the list] includes those who are low income, those who are newcomers to Canada, and folks who are experiencing homelessness.” said Vokey.

Before the pandemic, Richmond Public Library offered free public computer access in each of it’s four branches: Ironwood, Steveston, Cambie and Brighouse. A number of digital literacy programs were also available for anyone with a library pass.

“We’re very aware that the world is going digital,” said Vokey. “Job opportunities are available online…access to critical health and government information is located online more and more, and [the Library is] looking to support the community in learning the skills so they know how to access that information.”

Volky acknowledged how the current pandemic has made it more difficult to provide internet access to vulnerable populations, so the Richmond Public Library has made it their main goal to support their community through this challenging time.

Author: Oliver Zhang