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Connecticut libraries say they're working to close the 'digital divide'

Libraries say they’re working to close what’s called the “digital divide.”
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Libraries say they’re working to close what’s called the “digital divide.”

Connecticut libraries realize there are communities that can’t connect to the internet, so they’re providing laptops and teaching people in person about how to find information online.

Libraries say they’re working to close what’s called a “digital divide,” and that effort that was the focus of a conversation Wednesday at the Hartford Public Library.

After the pandemic forced schools and businesses online, low-income communities without adequate internet service have felt the digital divide’s economic and social effects.

It has become impossible to get an education or a job without the internet, so people without it are doomed to “information poverty,” said Tracie Hall, the executive director of the American Library Association, who took part in the panel discussion. She has worked in several libraries in Connecticut and across the country.

Even when libraries have the resources to help, people who need them might not even know about those resources, Hall said. And even if they do know about them, walking to and from the library could be too dangerous to be worth it in certain neighborhoods.

“Some of us are too afraid to go home after dark,” said Hall, paraphrasing one of her patrons. “I said ‘OK. I’ll drive you.’”

Information poverty falls disproportionately on communities of color, Hall said.

“If the digital racial gap is not addressed in one generation alone, digitization could render the country’s minorities – that’s their term – into an unemployment abyss,” she said. “Abyss. Abyss. You know what abyss is, right? That’s like a point of no return.”

Hall calls this the “Third Great Wave” of libraries, where the role of libraries has transformed from providing information and resources, to teaching people how to use and understand them. In low-income areas with a lack of opportunity, learning important skills and staying connected can make the difference between life and death, Hall said.

In Norwalk, underprivileged schoolchildren get to use free laptops, and residents are aided by navigators who meet with families and help them understand how best to use the internet, said Lamond Daniels, the city’s chief of community services.

“We rely on the internet like we rely on water and electricity,” he said. “We must come to a day in the near future where we do not pay for the internet.”

Samuel Pappas is the Fall 2022 Gwen Ifill Integrity in Journalism Intern. He assists the Accountability Project Investigative News Team.

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