The role that Queensland public libraries play in bridging the digital divide

Queensland University of Technology Masters in Library and Information Science graduate Will Wood shares his learnings from his recent research into the impact that current library programs and services have on levels of digital inclusion across Queensland. With the support of State Library of Queensland, Will analysed existing digital policy and the major initiatives tailored by public libraries to suit the growing needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Digital Divide

We are increasingly dependent on technology to fully participate in society.

While originally heralded as an equalising medium that would provide access to information for all people, the internet, in some cases, has only perpetuated pre-existing societal hierarchies by replicating them in the digital space.

The aim of my research was to highlight any gaps that may exist in current practice – and to establish recommendations for future government policy, digital program development, research and funding – in order to continue to support a society that is increasingly dependent on technology.

Quantifying the impact that libraries have on communities has been difficult for the industry to articulate due to studies often producing experiential data rather than the more tangible evidence produced by practical return on investment studies that are more effective in securing funding from government departments. The only way for public libraries to truly influence future policy creation is through the collection of such demonstrative evidence.

Governments are actually in agreement with this, with many acknowledging that libraries are important and should not be allowed to fall into disrepair, but that changes in policy and funding are hard to rationalise without a more detailed understanding of the value that library services provide.

There exists no other cultural institution that is as uniquely positioned to improve levels of digital and social inclusion in communities than public libraries. While local, state and federal governments rely on this service to further digital benchmarks social inequities continue.

If this situation is to be resolved, it will require that all levels of government recognise the role that public libraries play in bridging the digital divide and acknowledge that as a key player in the necessary solution to social and digital disadvantage, public libraries require effective policy, funding and support in keeping with the significant impact that they have within local communities.

In saying this though, the onus is not on governments alone to make a difference. In the case of libraries specifically, there is a need to become increasingly innovative and adaptable in practice.

Digital Divide

Change is inevitable – as library staff, we need to continue to adapt and move with the latest technology.

Public libraries must take more initiative in terms of advocacy if they are to secure the funding needed to remain as a bastion of information, education and training. The industry should not be committing itself to a culture of attempting to ‘do more with less’ or that will become the expected standard. Rather, public libraries should be showing what is capable with limited resources and then using that evidence to further the argument of what could be achieved with more government assistance.

I made a number of recommendations at the end of my report but it all really boils down to public libraries needing to continue to take ownership of their futures by pursuing alternative funding sources and local partnerships, by continuing to produce demonstrative research of this nature in order to substantiate claims for increased government funding and to petition for more inclusive digital policy that reflects the needs of all Australians equally.

For more, visit Public Libraries Connect. Or download the full report.